Key Points:

Rugby World Cup Minister Trevor Mallard is hedging his bets over the national stadium being at Eden Park, with news that Government officials have returned to inspect back-stop venue North Harbour Stadium.

Ministry of Economic Development officials took a closer look at the Albany location soon after the Eden Park Trust Board finished its application last month for a resource consent for a $320 million partial upgrade.

Auckland City Council commissioners heard 500 submissions for and against works planned for the 2011 event. Their decision is expected late this month.

That is when the Government intends to have completed its review of the option and a more recent $385 million design plan that involves adding a new west stand.

Mr Mallard won Cabinet committee approval last month for more time to investigate using temporary facilities to provide the extra 12,000 seats needed to turn Eden Park into a 60,000 seat stadium.

Meanwhile, the North Harbour Stadium Trust promoted itself as more than a venue-in-waiting if the Government rejected Eden Park.

The trust had architectural firm Creative Spaces prepare a design concept for $226 million of works that would give seating for 60,000.

It said its concept was the lowest-risk, lowest-cost and most practical option for a national stadium.

North Shore Mayor George Wood and neighbouring mayors Bob Harvey (Waitakere) and John Law (Rodney) back the stadium as a venue.

North Harbour Stadium chief executive Brendon O'Connor said yesterday he and Mr Wood met Mr Mallard in late November and then he met Ministry of Economic Development officials in the week before Christmas.

"They wanted another look around the stadium. They had experts with them, we spent a couple of hours talking about the possibilities.

"It was a very fruitful meeting, but who knows? I'm not going to call them until 8.15am on Monday.

"If we got the nod then the first thing I'd do is to sit down with the Government and say: What are the real needs?"

Creative Spaces chairman Geoff Wales said his firm designed the 1997 stadium to seat 20,000 and had put together the latest concept to see if it might be boosted to seat 60,000 and later reduced for a smaller stadium.

"We know it will work ... everyone in those seats will have a top view," said Mr Wales.

Mr Mallard said yesterday he was not in a position to comment on any developments in the stadium issue during the past month.

Eden Park Development Committee chairman Rob Fisher said he was optimistic about a positive and early decision on Eden Park's consent application.

"In the meantime, essential design and planning work is continuing.

"We are also continuing to work closely with Ministry of Economic Development officials."