Forsyth Barr Stadium meeting turns feisty

By Chris Morris of the Otago Daily Times

Forsyth Barr Stadium. Photo / Supplied
Forsyth Barr Stadium. Photo / Supplied

The public will have a say over future uses of the Forsyth Barr Stadium, following a feisty Dunedin City Council meeting yesterday.

The move came after about 30 protesters made their displeasure clear at yesterday's full council meeting, silently holding up signs calling for resignations whenever pro-stadium councillors spoke.

Mayor Dave Cull was even forced to call a brief halt and threaten to clear the packed public gallery, after one man decided to take more direct action.

The unidentified man walked on to the floor of the chamber and handed his sign directly to a still-seated Cr Syd Brown, who promptly dropped it to the floor as the man left the room.

The protest came as councillors considered reports detailing the stadium's $8.4 million budget blow-out, and the $1.9 million six-month loss recorded by the company running it, first revealed last week.

Councillors were expected to confirm the transfer of Dunedin Venues Management Ltd's governance responsibilities to Dunedin City Holdings Ltd, the holding company responsible for the city's council-controlled organisations.

DCHL was then to review DVML and stadium operations and finances, including the future mix of commercial and community events inside the venue.

However, Mr Cull took that a step further yesterday by proposing the public be given a say on the venue's future use as well.

A council subcommittee, with Mr Cull as chairman, would hear results of the DCHL review and create a forum to hear public views.

The idea won support from councillors yesterday, with results expected to be back before councillors by November.

Councillors also requested reports on ways of funding DVML's six-month shortfall, as well as the projected full-year loss, of $2.4 million, and further losses totalling $3.3 million forecast for the following three years.

Councillors also authorised $7.5 million in new loans to cover the stadium blow-out, although other ways of covering the cost would be considered at draft budget deliberations beginning today.

Yesterday's decisions came after more than three hours of debate and questioning directed at council staff, PricewaterhouseCoopers director Stephen Drain, DVML chief executive David Davies and board member Peter Hutchison.

Mr Hutchison, responding to questions, said savings were already being sought, with a review to study how far DVML could cut costs without damaging its ability to generate additional revenue.

Results were expected by the end of next month and "there will be savings", he said.

However, holding more charitable or community events inside the stadium risked adding to DVML deficits, as the stadium could not be run at no cost, he warned.

The debate also saw councillors again divide into camps over their support or opposition for the roofed venue.

Cr Brown drew scoffs from the gallery as he urged people to focus on making the stadium work, after pointing out its cost overrun, at 4.2 per cent, was within a 5 per cent margin of error previously envisaged.

Cr Bill Acklin also believed it was time to move on, saying the continuing negativity "really goes against my grain".

"I'm proud of it [stadium]," he declared.

However, Cr Lee Vandervis drew applause as he described the project as "something of a disaster", claiming ratepayers had been misled about the eventual cost to be incurred by the council, which also did not include other costs like the realignment of State Highway 88.

Cr Jinty MacTavish said reading the PWC report was like "reliving a nightmare", given the "litany of potholes" evident in the project's management, and it was fortunate the council was not facing a larger blow-out.

Mr Cull said there were lessons for the council in the report, but said the focus should now be on the challenges ahead.

"Our job is to face the future, not relitigate the past."

Council chief executive Paul Orders again wouldn't be drawn on who was to blame for $3.7 million in unauthorised spending on the stadium's catering fit-out, saying he needed time to reflect on information from PWC.

- Otago Daily Times

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