How embarrassing for Mayor Phil Goff that on the eve of the vote to impose a new 11.5 cents a litre fuel tax on Aucklanders, the Ombudsman has forced him and his officials to release a year old "pre-feasibility study" into that potential waste disposal unit of ratepayer funds - a $1.5 billion downtown stadium.

Goff waxed lyrical about his desire for such a secular cathedral during his 2016 Mayoral campaign, and on winning ordered up a report. Consultants PWC were duly commissioned and in June 2017, presented their findings, followed in October by a funding update.

With the reports came a bill for $935,000 to the council's Regional Facilities Auckland.

It's taken nearly a year of media pressure, backed by a good growling from the Ombudsman, to make the reports public – and then in an expurgated form, which makes a mockery of the Ombudsman's ruling.


Having forked out nearly $1 million, it's hardly surprising the bureaucrats wanted to keep it secret. From the fragments released, it seems the sort of report that the council's in-house cast of talented former journalists, with the aid of Professor Google, could have hustled up for nothing.

Central is the usual cargo cultish hymn of praise to the largesse such a new national stadium will attract. It gushes that "it is reasonable to put forward the view that a precinct and national football stadium would bring tremendous economic and social benefits to Auckland and New Zealand. For example …."

Unfortunately, the example is censored. Left to read, perhaps by mistake, is the admission that "to date these benefits have not been examined and quantified."

Intriguingly, uncensored is the claim that building a stadium would result in the "creating [of] new residential housing capacity including affordable housing [which] would bring substantial benefit to Auckland."

We're left to envisage long lines of camp stretchers across the pitch for the long stretches of the year when the place is empty. That's the affordable housing. Then up in the top tier, which PWC says will only be opened up for crowds of 30,000-50,000, the wealthier homeless can lounge back in airline sleeper seats.

Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Illustration / Peter Bromhead

For all their enthusiasm, in the end, the report writers have to purse their lips and admit to two "immutable laws in relation to the economics of such developments."

First "they require considerable capital investment and conversely they are highly unlikely to be able to generate returns that cover the cost of securing the capital."

Second stadiums do not usually generate enough revenue to cover operational costs let alone paying a return to private sector backers.


However, such warnings don't seem to deter politicians dreaming of their big boys toys – and what could be bigger than a stadium.

On Friday, even the usually level-headed planning committee chairman Chris Darby was at it, upset that Auckland was falling behind, of all places, Dunedin when it came to a covered stadium. Could it be because we're smarter? Until now anyway.

Two years ago, when former Warriors Rugby League owner, Eric Watson tried to bully Aucklanders into building a waterfront stadium for his league team, I put on my consultant's cap, and discovered that in the 2015 season, the Warriors home crowds had averaged 14,375. In 2017, home crowds had dropped to an average of 11,754.

In the 2015 season, the Auckland Blues rugby union team, did even worse, with average home audiences at Eden Park of around 10,000. To my surprise, last year the Blues crowd picked up, peaking once, at 20,800.

Way behind were the provincial rugby games starring Auckland at Eden Park. In 2015 they averaged 4,000 spectators, in 2017, around 5,000.

Yet the PWC report writers say the proposed National Stadium "will only be used for events when crowds of 15,000 or more are expected."

Despite this obvious lack of need, there seems to be pressure building to send the consultants back out to follow up with a feasibility study. Then, who knows? A decision to secure a CBD site for something future Aucklanders may or may not want in 10, 20 or 30 years time?

Alternatively, we could suggest Regional Facilities Auckland and the politicians turn their attention to an immediate problem, rescuing the stalled restoration of the historic St James Theatre.