Millions spent on strategy wastes ratepayer money and fails to serve sporting needs, writes John Watson.

The announcement that Auckland Cricket will continue to play all its domestic cricket matches on Eden Park No 2 should spell the end of Auckland Council's unpopular stadium strategy. The unfortunate reality is that it will do nothing of the sort. The strategy will continue despite little public support and the opposition of key codes.

During the weekend the Herald on Sunday revealed that the new boutique cricket stadium proposed for Western Springs will host, at best, one cricket game a year. In reality Auckland might be lucky to get even that. There have been only five cricket tests played in Auckland over the last 10 years and there are now a number of competing boutique cricket stadiums across New Zealand.

It has to be asked if the construction of a new stadium for one game of cricket a year is wise use of ratepayer money, especially when there are already two cricket venues at Eden Park No 1 and No 2.

Similarly questionable are the other components of the strategy that see the Warriors forced out of Mt Smart and across to North Harbour, away from their fanbase and club facilities. Large sections of Mt Smart Stadium are dismantled to accommodate speedway, including the bottom portions of the new Eastern Stand, the South Stand and the bottom half of the Western Stand, with corporate boxes. Thus tens of millions of ratepayer dollars invested to make Mt Smart a purpose-built league venue are rendered redundant.


To date, the true financial cost of all this rejigging of Auckland's stadiums has proven to be elusive. Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA) has issued wildly contradictory financial assessments of the proposed cost. Its chief executive initially stated it would take $100 million to get Mt Smart up to scratch. That was before it was revealed this princely sum included multi-storey carparks, new grandstands and lavish concourses - all of which were unnecessary and none of which were required by the NRL.

From this extreme, RFA then glided seamlessly to quoting a much reduced sum of $12 million to develop the Western Springs boutique stadium - this when Hagley Oval in Christchurch, a similar project, cost more than $20 million. The tactic seems to be to get the "strategy" advanced to a point from which it will be difficult to turn back. Ratepayers can then be hit up for additional money to complete the job in the future.

No less fluid has been the strategy itself following the Eden Park Trust Board's rejection of the "integrated management" proposal which was to be the centrepiece of the original strategy. For its part, the Auckland Council has shown little interest in challenging its council-controlled organisation over the unpopular and expensive proposal. There has been no oversight by councillors and no attempt to involve the public. Instead there has been an unquestioning deference to the demands of RFA at a time when the rest of the community is being subject to major cuts in spending and services.

A recent series of forums by the Parks, Recreation and Sport Committee, for example, revealed a disturbing number of clubs struggling to cope with inferior grounds and facilities, especially in the south and west where playing numbers have risen exponentially. In some of Auckland's poorest suburbs clubs have had to turn away youngsters because of inadequate facilities.

In these circumstances surely a more affordable and pragmatic "strategy" is called for. Speedway should remain at Western Springs (with concerts and club rugby); Eden Park No 2, which hosts first-class cricket, can be further developed into a test venue as it already has many of the required facilities and is a complementary fit with the No 1 ground; a modest maintenance budget is advanced for Mt Smart and the Warriors, and North Harbour Stadium is utilised more for a range of codes and events.

Maybe then a portion of the saved millions can be diverted into helping the grassroots clubs who actually keep the stadiums going - as ratepayers, as spectators and as the people who develop the sportsmen and women who eventually grace these arenas as players.

John Watson is Auckland councillor for the Albany ward.