Secrecy of Auckland stadium talks raises alarm

By Bernard Orsman

Secret meetings by the Auckland City Council must end or the result will be half-baked solutions for the waterfront, including a stadium, says the Heart of the City business group.

The group's chief executive, Alex Swney, yesterday slammed the council for discussing stadium options at a confidential meeting last Thursday. The council opted for a stadium on Marsden, Captain Cook and Queens wharves.

"There's a great opportunity for us to think beyond just building a stadium, but it's going to be hard if council continues to meet in confidence and not engage with the people of Auckland," said Mr Swney.

Former Auckland City councillor Greg McKeown, who works for Heart of the City, said the council's decision was a classic case of the public and interested groups like the Institute of Architects' urban issues group being shut out and councillors coming up with a half-baked solution.

The Herald understands the Government has abandoned the idea of a stadium over Captain Cook and Marsden wharves and is now focused on one on Bledisloe Wharf.

Mr McKeown said Bledisloe Wharf was a much better site because it would act as a bookend, separating the port from the "people's CBD waterfront" to the west.

It would also keep Captain Cook, Marsden and Queen's wharves more people-oriented.

All council meetings about the waterfront development in the past few months have been behind closed doors and the public have been excluded from several meetings on the $320 million Eden Park upgrade - usually on the grounds of commercial sensitivity.

Last July, the finance and corporate business committee approved a $1 million, one-year interest and capital-free loan to the Eden Park Trust Board behind closed doors. Documents released to the Herald under the Official Information Act show the board needed the money to pay consultants because of a "working capital shortfall".

Council chief executive David Rankin is also sitting on an application and business case for ratepayer funding for the Eden Park upgrade, but has refused to make it public.

He said the council consulted ratepayers during the long-term plan on the principle of making a substantial, but not the main, contribution to Eden Park. The next step was for the council to determine Auckland City's share.

A supplement on the long-term plan in the council's City Scene publication had one line on Eden Park, referring to a "$50 million indicative" contribution to regional, national and international facilities (such as Eden Park or a convention centre). This sum was increased to $100 million at the last minute after the council received "confidential" figures on the latest costings for Eden Park.

Mr Rankin said there would be no more consultation with ratepayers, who would regard it as perfectly reasonable for the council to get on and work out who was going to pay for what with other councils, the Government and the rugby union.

Councillors Cathy Casey and Neil Abel said ratepayers had a right to know how much the trust wanted.

Dr Casey could understand the commercial sensitivity of negotiations for the Tank Farm development but could not understand why the funding application and business case were a "big secret".

Mr Abel said there was no reason to hide the application and business case for Eden Park.

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