For and against: Waterfront stadium

40 comments
Grant McLachlan and John Tookey differ in opinion when it comes to a possible stadium on Auckland's waterfront.
A proposed waterfront stadium for Auckland City. Photo / Supplied
A proposed waterfront stadium for Auckland City. Photo / Supplied

For

Grant McLachlan

A waterfront stadium could synergise Central Auckland, creating an entertainment hub that would complement neighbouring arenas, theatres, museums, conference venues, accommodation and tourism districts. If integrated with infrastructure, it could solve a backlog of problems.

The favoured location for the stadium is Bledisloe Wharf - the same wharf Ports of Auckland wish to extend. Across the road from Britomart, it is at a major choke point for ferries, ships, trains, buses, trucks, pedestrians and other road users.

Any reduction in the area of the port puts pressure elsewhere. Ports of Auckland would expect to extend the eastern Fergusson Wharf. Otherwise, it would need to look elsewhere, such as Marsden Point, putting pressure on connecting road and rail networks there.

To build a stadium on Bledisloe Wharf and extend Fergusson Wharf needs a reclamation of the harbour. The spoil from the City Rail Link and the second harbour crossing could provide the answer.

The City Rail Link might increase the capacity of trains and pedestrian volumes to the central city but the issue remains that east of the central business district the capacity of the road network is restricted by the lack of integrated motorways.

Eastern residents seem to prefer to sit in their million-dollar homes while outside their gate is bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Tamaki Drive was at breaking point in the 1980s while Grafton Gully terminates at a short-sighted labyrinth of apartment complexes built on surplus railyards. Still, locals prefer to block any notion of completing the eastern motorway loop - increasing their property prices at everyone else's expense.

Here lies the problem. The proposed stadium represents a "build and they will come" future-proofing mindset whereas the locals would prefer a "starve 'em and they will pay more" catch-up mindset.

Compare Melbourne with Wellington, for instance. Melbourne has several large-capacity stadiums that charge reasonable, family oriented prices. Wellington chose to build a stadium almost half the size as other options considered so they could charge higher prices to suit corporates. Alas, Melbourne's stadium occupancy is higher than Wellington's.

Those living closer to the proposed Auckland waterfront stadium site are more likely to argue for a smaller stadium and are more likely able to afford the higher ticket prices. Similarly, those farther away might be deterred from attending events due to the hassle of traffic congestion and higher ticket prices.

Countering such logic, if those east of the Southern Motorway oppose motorways through their suburbs, then there should be tolls charged at onramps between Silvia Park and Fanshawe St for the privilege of travelling past other suburbs that have allowed motorways.

Transport networks should be interconnected. In the 1950s, Auckland's road and rail network envisioned a series of interlinking loops. The logic was simple: if one route was congested, traffic would have an alternative route. Instead, Auckland only completed a single artery of motorways with capillaries of arterial and local roads, which often clot.

In the past decade, however, the thinking has returned to the loop philosophy with the Western Motorway's Waterview connection, the SH1/SH20 connections at Manukau and Mangere Inlet, the upper harbour highway - Northern Motorway junction upgrade at Albany, and the City Rail Link.

Coincidentally, the area that needs to be reclaimed for the stadium and port expansion was also considered for the junction of the eastern motorway crossing Orakei Basin and a tunnel portal for the second harbour crossing from Grafton Gully to Barrys Point.


Grant McLachlan, a former environmental consultant and hearings commissioner. Photo / Supplied
Grant McLachlan, a former environmental consultant and hearings commissioner. Photo / Supplied

The more recently proposed second harbour crossing is a tunnel essentially parallel to the harbour bridge from Victoria Park under Wynyard Wharf and re-joining the Northern Motorway close to the Onewa Rd junction. These three tunnel proposals offer few alternative routes if there is congestion north of spaghetti junction.

One bad development can trigger a chain reaction of infrastructure nightmares. Conversely, one stadium can solve a lot of problems by working with and benefiting from other infrastructure projects.

Grant McLachlan is a former environmental consultant and hearings commissioner.

Against

John Tookey

When I read that there is a drive towards the development of a new world class building in Auckland my immediate reaction is "great, when do we start?" Like many others in construction I have an optimism bias.

Anything can be built if there is a will and sufficient money. Much of our infrastructure and many of our best buildings exist because of optimism bias. So far, so good.

Unfortunately the "big idea" is the waterfront stadium. At this point my optimism bias feels the need to pour a very large G&T to make the pain go away.

At the risk of being a "nay sayer", this is not a smart idea for the future of Auckland. A few facts:

In 2006 I remember being interviewed about the possibility in preparation for the Rugby World Cup of 2011. The time-bound nature of construction implied either a cost blowout or a poor-quality building. A project manager friend said to me of big construction - "we target time, cost and quality; now pick any two". Wise man.

However, the evidence available provided an antidote to hubris. In recent history, stadiums have been a major source of financial strain for their hosts. In 2002 NZ dollar terms, Wembley ($1.5 billion), Stadium Australia ($700 million), Stade de France ($1 billion), Yankee Stadium ($1.4 billion). Therefore the very high estimates from the last time around this block - upwards of $900 million in 2006 prices - is only likely to go in one direction, up.

But the fundamental problem is this: the waterfront is not a good location for a stadium.

All substantial stadiums are situated with access from all sides and extensive parking around. Auckland waterfront is not like that. Access is going to be a major problem.

Finance is set to be a show stopper. Is this a government project of national importance? Do we Aucklanders pay? Is it a national burden paid from taxation? Speak to anyone with knowledge of the shoestring on which the RWC redevelopment of Eden Park was run - a series of asking nicely and tortured negotiations for "just a little more" from various governmental agencies.

Add in the unmentioned fact that keeping Auckland's existing stadiums occupied and financially viable will be even more problematic than it currently is with the additional capacity in the mix.

Yes, Auckland would benefit from a landmark building. Yes, I would love to see an icon like the Sydney Opera House. However, please show me where the money is going to come from to do all this.

Let's assume the money can be assembled. Let's assume we can resolve the problem of teleporting 25-30 per cent of expected numbers of spectators across the harbour an hour before kick-off. I just have one final request. Once committed to this build there is an inevitable soul searching and "blame storming" as we seek the culprits and a way out of the financial pressure. This always happens in major public projects.

Can I please ask that all politicians and luminaries so keen on committing the city to such huge and unknown expenditure append their initials to affidavits now? It will make the public inquiry much cheaper down the track.

John Tookey, Professor of Construction Management at AUT. Photo / Supplied
John Tookey, Professor of Construction Management at AUT. Photo / Supplied

John Tookey is professor of construction management at AUT.

Dialogue contributions are welcome and should be 500-700 words. Send your submission to dialogue@nzherald.co.nz. Text may be edited and used in digital formats as well as on paper.

- NZ Herald

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