The debate about the main venue for the Rugby World Cup has continued long enough and reached a predictable, and reasonable, conclusion. Eden Park will be upgraded to seat the stipulated 60,000 but will not be the grand refurbished stadium the Eden Park Trust Board had asked the Government to help finance. Nor is it the minimal, or even temporary, solution the Government had expected when it enthusiastically supported the Rugby Union's bid for the 2011 event.
The decision announced yesterday will given Eden Park a new South Stand as well as temporary additional seating. At a cost of $190 million it is quite some distance short of the $385 million the trust board had sought, though little more than half the amount Sports Minister Trevor Mallard offered Auckland for his waterfront proposal a few months ago. Many will greet this decision as sour grapes but that would be unfair. There is good reason not to put the same money into Eden Park.
The fact remains that if Auckland was starting from scratch today it would not put a sports stadium of any size in suburban Sandringham. Nor, as we have discovered, would it agree to putting such a facility on its waterfront. But many of those who chorused their dismay at the waterfront proposal agreed that Eden Park was not ideal. Since then there has been lobbying to revive Carlaw Park or to enlarge North Harbour Stadium for the Rugby World Cup. North Harbour interests sounded quietly confident a few weeks ago.
But Albany remains a little too far from the city centre and cannot be reached by rail, while a stadium of sufficient size at Carlaw Park would need to bite into the Domain and that would meet resistance. Time is against any new option in any case. Many doubted Mr Mallard's waterfront scheme could have been finished in the four years remaining until the World Cup and the time for fresh starts has passed.
The fact is, Auckland is not starting from scratch; it has a well-established rugby ground with a heritage of its own. While its residential neighbourhood places severe limitations on its use, the neighbourhood seems to have come to terms with the stadium in its midst and latterly some have even expressed a certain affection for it. The waterfront alternative did not attract noticeable support from the vicinity of Eden Park despite the scale of the trust board's proposed redevelopment.
Now the board will have to settle for little more than a new South Stand. That would leave the unpopular Panasonic Stand in place and the popular open East Terraces much as they are. But the more recently built North Stand, with its splendid sight lines and fine neoclassical decoration, might remain more prominent than it might have been if included in a semi- or fully enclosed stadium.
The World Cup organisers, Rugby New Zealand 2011, have agreed to the compromise and are confident the decision would meet the International Rugby Board's expectations. Temporary additions may give the park a capacity greater than 60,000 for the World Cup matches and the new permanent capacity will be around 50,000 seats, more than enough for any other match.
The trust board may not be as easily appeased. Temporary seating has not been the board's idea of a "legacy" improvement that would be worth the upheaval at the venue over several seasons. But a new South Stand with markedly better amenities should satisfy the trustees' obligations to Auckland rugby and cricket.
The debate has been well worthwhile. This is a major sporting investment and all options needed to be discussed. But the talking is over. Now resource consents have to be obtained and preparations begin for construction without further delay.