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High Court battle expected to drag in Government
Friday November 24, 2006

The Government looks likely to be dragged into a High Court battle between a group of Auckland ratepayers opposed to a waterfront stadium and the Auckland City and regional councils.

Justice John Priestley yesterday recommended that the Attorney-General be served with copies of court proceedings, lawyers' submissions and supporting affidavits - and then appear as a co-defendant, on behalf of the Government, in hearings into the proposed waterfront stadium.

But the judge granted the Attorney-General leave to seek revision of the order if there was good reason.

Justice Priestley's order was made at the end of an injunction hearing in the High Court at Auckland brought by five ratepayers unhappy with the handling of the waterfront stadium proposal by the Auckland City Council and Auckland Regional Council.

Ports of Auckland and the Eden Park Trust Board were also invited to attend a second injunction hearing, but were not considered co-defendants.

The hearing is set down for two days from December 11.

Plaintiffs in yesterday's hearing had argued, through counsel Rodney Harrison, QC, for an injunction stopping last night's Auckland City Council decision and today's Auckland Regional Council decision on a preferred site for a World Cup stadium.

The group alleged the councils failed to consult properly or adhere to the Local Government Act.

Lawyers for the two authorities argued the decisions were nothing more than an expression of a preferred site as had been requested by the Government.

City council lawyer Graeme Hall asked that the injunction hearing be postponed until more developed submissions could be made.

Any final decision on the stadium location was for central government and the city council would be expressing only a preferred option, he said.

Dr Harrison had argued for the plaintiffs that the local body decisions were the major decisions and future consultation would only be "fine tuning".

But Justice Priestley, after a day of convoluted and circuitous legal argument, finally found in favour of the councils, at least until next month's fuller hearing.

He did not accept an argument by Dr Harrison that decisions made at local government level last night and today would take matters out of the hands of the public or council, and give central Government the final say on a stadium location.

The local authorities would still have room to fight future decisions through the Local Government Act.

"I have no idea what those decisions might be. Exactly how the defendants [local government] react to central Government requests or pressure is a matter for them. But they are responsible territorial authorities who cannot be oblivious to their statutory obligations."

Patrick McGuire, an Auckland solicitor behind the injunction, said he was not anti-sport but thought a rushed decision could spell disaster.

"The Rugby World Cup is only a fleeting moment in time but the stadium is going to be there for 100 years."

He would not personally be affected if the stadium was built on the waterfront, he said.

Susan Grimsdell, whose apartment looks over the proposed site, was the only member of the group whose property would be affected. The others involved in the action were teacher Valerie Scott, stockbroker Guy Hallwright and architect Julie Stout.