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Ownership of Eden Park, the nation's largest stadium, and Queens Wharf and its Cloud offers huge advantages for Auckland

Sports Minister Murray McCully. Photo / NZPA
Sports Minister Murray McCully. Photo / NZPA

The words government and gifts do not go comfortably together. The Government's "gift" to Auckland of its share in Eden Park, Queens Wharf and its Cloud will not have gone down well in other parts of the country where taxpayers might reasonably be wondering why Auckland is not obliged to pay some sort of return for the nation's contribution.

But if Sports Minister Murray McCully was expecting much gratitude from Auckland he has been disappointed.

The mayor is appreciative but the council is suspicious. On the right and left, members went flinty-eyed when they voted 12-7 to accept the amenities on Thursday and Len Brown promised to check the financial fine print before they make a "final" decision next month.

It is all posturing.

There cannot be the slightest doubt the council will accept the offer, regardless of the additional debt it carries.

It is not a gift, of course. It is a perfectly sensible transfer of property from one public body to another and it was predictable at every stage in two Governments' contributions to the Rugby World Cup.

Eden Park is the nation's largest stadium but it belongs to Auckland, administered by a nine-member trust board, five of whom were appointed by the Government when the stadium was being upgraded for the 2011 event largely at national expense.

In future the council will be able to make those appointments, ensuring the city's interest can prevail in any conflict with the stadium's original trustees, the Auckland Rugby Union and Auckland Cricket.

The council also owns Mt Smart and North Harbour Stadiums but it is bizarre that its officers have now been asked to report on whether its effective control of Eden Park would be an anti-competitive arrangement in breach of the Commerce Act. The stadiums might have been competing under previous councils but none were exactly profitable and the public interest now lies in making the most of all of them.

The council should not be in a hurry to impose its view of where different sports should be played. The best use of each venue is likely to come from collaboration with the teams and codes already identified with it.

Queens Wharf and the Cloud are a different proposition. The wharf was bought from Ports of Auckland jointly by the Government and the former Regional Council as a focus of World Cup festivities and the long canopy called the Cloud was put there almost at the last minute when architectural competitions had produced nothing exciting.

Mr McCully always said Auckland could keep it after the cup and if it did not want it, Christchurch might have a use for it.

Auckland does want it. It has proved to be a pleasant, versatile space for exhibitions and activities and it has become a distinctive feature of the waterfront. It may take a long time for somebody to suggest something better.

Queens Wharf, including the Cloud, remains a blank canvas for an inspired public creation but it is not for the Government to find the inspiration, it is the city's challenge and it is lucky to be getting sole ownership of the asset.

The country might not begrudge Auckland its good fortune and the Government will be glad to get these minor liabilities off its books, but let us say "thanks very much".

- NZ Herald

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