Councillors in shock stadium u-turn

By Jared Savage

Most Auckland City councillors now favour building a stadium on the waterfront instead of Eden Park - but not at its current site.

A straw poll of the 19 councillors and Mayor Dick Hubbard has revealed the Government-backed stadium has gained favour with the council a week after nearly half of them supported exploring Carlaw Park as an option.

Hubbard and 11 councillors have indicated they are leaning towards building a waterfront stadium- but only if it is built further east than the proposed site.

After two days of intensive meetings with various parties, including Sports Minister Trevor Mallard, the council had their first discussion with Auckland's "urban design champion" Ludo Campbell-Reid.

The former head of London's urban design team had "serious concerns" about the current site and design for the proposed stadium, which was too big, and would block the view shafts protected around Britomart. No matter how well the stadium was designed, Campbell-Reid said, a stadium built between Marsden and Cook wharves could not fit in with the city's urban design.

Instead, Campbell-Reid suggested the stadium should be shifted further east towards Bledisloe wharf.

Councillors spoken to yesterday expressed admiration for his vision for the waterfront, calling it "inspired", "iconic" and "compelling".

"I'm excited about the waterfront but we must pay respect to it. So we need to work on the current design and the further east we go, the better for the city," Campbell-Reid said.

However, the land is occupied by the Ports of Auckland who have previously said a stadium could not be built on the wharf without disrupting port business - worth $21 billion a year. Many of the Auckland City councillors spoken to supported shifting the stadium to Bledisloe wharf, which was the original plan proposed by Government, but the land could not be taken by force.

The Herald Poll: See how Auckland voted

Auckland Regional Council owns the port land through its investment arm Auckland Regional Holdings, and is keen to protect its assets which provide millions of dollars of funding.

However, ARC councillors were keeping tight-lipped yesterday when asked to express a preference for a waterfront stadium or Eden Park.

While most of the regional councillors said they would not make a decision until getting all the facts, some broke ranks to tell the Herald on Sunday their preference - a number split down the middle.

Chairman Mike Lee said the public had the right to know but Auckland's most important decision in decades should not be scrutinised in a "trial by media".

He has previously said the ARC has taken Eden Park as a default position until the council is convinced that the Ports of Auckland, owned by the ARC's investment arm, would not suffer financially. "That is a discussion for us to have with Government, not the Auckland City Council," Lee said.

Ports chief executive Geoff Vazey has previously said that Marsden and Captain Cook wharves are the only port land which could be taken.

Auckland City Council and the Auckland Regional Council must tell Mallard whether they support the waterfront or Eden Park by Friday.

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