Waterfront stadium: Quandary for Mallard after ARC votes No

By Anne Beston

The country is no closer to knowing if a revamped Eden Park or a planned new stadium on Auckland's waterfront will host the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Sports Minister Trevor Mallard refused to comment today on the Auckland Regional Council's decision to support a revamped Eden Park rather than a planned new stadium on the city's waterfront.

A fortnight ago Mr Mallard told both councils if they could not agree on the stadium, the Rugby World Cup would go to Jade Stadium in Christchurch.

Mr Mallard told reporters today he would go back to the Cabinet on Monday and until then would say nothing more about the stadium vote.

The ARC decision followed a vote last night by the Auckland City Council in support of the planned waterfront stadium.

He said the recommendations from the ACC and the ARC were not consistent and they would be discussed at Monday's Cabinet meeting on Monday.

He refused to answer questions. Mr Mallard then entered a car and departed.

ARC councillors have unanimously voted against the Government's grand plan for a new stadium on Auckland's waterfront.

The twelve councillors also unanimously supported the alternative proposal, the $385 million refurbishment of Eden Park.

The ARC's decision follows an Auckland City Council vote on the proposed stadium last night, which saw a majority of councillors voting in favour of the waterfront option.

But their vote was heavily qualified. They wanted a waterfront stadium but not where the Government does, but further east. According to Rugby World Minister Trevor Mallard that site - on Bledisloe Wharf - is not an option.

Regional councillors began their debate after a public speaking session this morning, where ratepayers expressed their opposition to the waterfront site.

Mr Mallard last week said he had asked both councils to give an order of preference and did not want them vetoing each other.

"If, for example, the Auckland City Council says its preference is for Eden Park but the waterfront would be acceptable, and the Auckland Regional Council say Eden Park is definitely a no, then you would go to the waterfront," Mr Mallard said.

A raft of recommendations put before regional councillors this morning pointed to the problems with the waterfront site.

The recommendations said that the cost, risks and potential benefits of a stadium over Marsden and Captain Cook wharves was inappropriate.

They said the stadium would affect the operation of Auckland's port, bypass the Resource Management Act, have a "significant "negative impact" on the downtown Britomart heritage area and could involve big cost overruns.

Councillor Craig Little, who was leaning towards the waterfront option earlier this week, said this morning he could not vote for it.

"I am a bit sad about that, Mallard had the guts to at least stand up and get things moving but it is not to be.

"It cannot work and it's not the right thing to do."

Unlike last night's Auckland City Council meeting on the issue, members of the public were this morning given speaking times by ARC chairman Mike Lee.

Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard also attended the meeting.

Activist Lisa Prager said the city council had failed in its statutory duty by voting for the waterfront option and urged the Auckland Regional Council to make a different decision.

"It's very simple, it's up to Auckland Regional Council to represent the public of Auckland. I am sure you know what the polls say."

North Harbour stadium representatives have still not given up their bid for the Rugby World Cup.

Spokesman Brendan O'Connor said councillors must forget the emotion around the debate.

He urged them to consider North Harbour even thought the government has only given Auckland the option of the waterfront or Eden Park.

"We are the no-risk, low-cost option, why would you go and build an extra stadium in the city when we are fifteen minutes from the CBD."

Architects and urban design experts have in general united in opposition to the waterfront option and Auckland architect Peter Bossley said no amount of animation and video images of the waterfront stadium could make it palatable.

He said the stadium itself would be a "dead and empty space".

"We don’t need a stadium to have restaurants and cafes on the waterfront we can have those without the stadium."

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