Poor Murray McCully. Let's hope any other Valentine Day gifts he offered yesterday got a better reception than the one he couriered to the ingrates at Auckland Council.
While Mayor Len Brown was beside himself with excitement, the majority of his council colleagues treated the billet doux from the Minister for Cleaning up after the Rugby World Cup, like a virus-laden email from their Telecom account.
"Dear Len, I'm delighted to let you know you have won $30 million worth of almost-new facilities left over from the World Cup. Just click on the link and give us your bank details, Love, Muzza."
From the Right and the Left came nervous squeals. Don't click anything. It's a Trojan Horse. Beware Greeks bearing gifts. To Dr Cathy Casey, Eden Park was not just a Trojan horse, it was an albatross and a white elephant as well. Even deputy mayor, Penny Hulse who was almost as keen as the mayor to wrap herself in the gift paper, admitted that if she were buying a used car from Mr McCully, she'd be kicking the tyres very hard. In the background, Cassandra Christine Fletcher, a former Cabinet colleague of Mr McCully, was muttering, "act in haste, repent at leisure."
I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. The Government claimed some seats on the Eden Park Trust board after pumping $190 million into upgrading the facilities for the rugby contest. It also contributed $20 million towards the cost of buying Queens Wharf from Ports of Auckland to ensure Prime Minister John Key's dream of it becoming the venue for World Cup "party central" could be realised. It also pumped in around $10 million to pay for the "temporary" plastic covered "Cloud" that was plonked on the wharf to provide all-weather protection.
The government now wants to be shot of all three, knows there's no chance of extracting a penny from anyone for them, so is offering them to Auckland Council for nothing, as is and where is.
The councillors biggest concern is being trapped into inheriting the debt burden of the struggling stadium. Local councillors were also concerned that if Auckland Council gained a majority on the trust board, that would somehow compromise the council's role administering the sack full of planning restrictions and condition imposed on Eden Park by years of RMA hearing decisions. But surely it will be easier to guarantee these planning conditions are observed with a majority on the board. As for trapping ratepayers deeper into debt, I'd have thought getting the hands on the tiller, will ensure no further surprises for council about the financial health of the trust board. Council already underwrites some loans to the board. Having more, or for that matter, less, board members, won't alter that.
The fear that greater board involvement will leave ratepayers more exposed if Eden Park's financial health deteriorates, ignores the reality, that Auckland ratepayers are saddled with the only international quality stadium in the land, regardless of the number of seats on the board. Politically, no council will let this facility die. The world's most liveable city without a world-class stadium isn't going to happen. So better we're in the majority on the inside, than sitting at the Town Hall, waiting for the next begging letter.
Unfortunately, councillors had little time for the fate of Queens Wharf. Don't they remember the Slug - sorry Cloud - was just a temporary blight on the wharf, to be replaced afterwards by something world class? This council is obsessed with plans, long term, short term, unitary, waterfront, CBD, you name it, they have one. So why is The Cloud somehow sacrosanct. The report to yesterday's meeting referred to it as being an "interim" entity. Yet the mayor approvingly noted the same document gave it a lifespan of 50 years, and said "I think that's about right. It's not as though we're going to have to fold up the outer membrane next year and put on a new one. That's years away."
Indeed he positively gushed, claiming Aucklanders "are totally loving it".
He even claimed to have been in on it's conception, claiming "the decision about building the Cloud there was fairly instantaneous, and quite frankly came off a discussion Key and I had." It's a shame the former chairman of the regional council Mike Lee was missing from the meeting. He's always said it was a last-ditch solution presented to him by Mr McCully. Regardless of who conceived it, the sooner it's dispatched to Christchurch, or the ocean bottom, the better.