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No easy answer to regional question
Thursday November 23, 2006
By Geoff Cumming

If those calling for a single agency to handle Auckland's big development issues still needed a dambuster to prove their case, the rugby stadium debacle is it.

From Orewa to Pukekohe, the seven mayors of this patch-torn territory are unanimous that the stadium decision is one for a region-wide body.

That cannot be, because there isn't one; the regional council is restricted to environmental and transport planning issues.

In the vacuum, it was left to the Eden Park Trust Board to identify costings and funding for a 60,000-seat upgraded stadium - figures that prompted the Auckland City Council and the Government to get cold feet.

Under the latest plans, Eden Park needs $175 million plus GST from central and local government. But councils beyond Auckland City's boundaries aren't willing to put in a cent, according to their mayors. None of the councils has been formally approached and only Franklin would even consider a request from Eden Park.

But Mayor Mark Ball says his council is focused on upgrading Pukekohe Stadium to host a Rugby World Cup pool match or two.

"We need to look at who best would manage these regional assets rather than thinking in isolation," said Mr Ball. "It comes back to governance. It wouldn't have taken much to start this debate at the time we won [the hosting of] the World Cup."

Eden Park chief executive John Alexander says the mayors' reaction is disappointing, considering that economic benefits from the Rugby World Cup and an upgraded Eden Park will filter throughout the region, not just to Auckland City.

The mayors' stance is summed up by Manukau mayor Sir Barry Curtis: "We were not part of the decision-making process, so we would take the view that we have no responsibility to fund it. It's always been my belief that if there's going to be a contribution required of local government relating to stadium works then it ought to be directed through a new, strengthened regional government.

"Had we not had a multitude of local authorities, with a very curtailed form of regional government, we wouldn't be in the position we are in today. This could have been canvassed with a full-blown regional government a year ago - the funding issues and siting issues and every other issue that needs to be dealt with."

Papakura Mayor John Robertson said funding for a national stadium should be left to the Government and the New Zealand Rugby Union.

"I don't buy into this distinguishing of the waterfront stadium as a national stadium and calling Eden Park a regional stadium."

Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey said he would happily take a funding request to his council. But if the waterfront stadium were rejected, "I would ... throw all my weight behind North Harbour Stadium."