In the week since an (under) waterfront stadium proposal was publicised in this paper, critics have taken a good look at it.

Understandably, they find it unsettling. A sports stadium largely below the waterline is an idea hard to get used to. Provision can be made for predicted sea level rise and king tides, storm surges and even tsunami. But how would it feel to sit below water level, looking down on a field 15m below the seabed?

Probably it would feel strange - once, then spectators would get involved in the game and not give the harbour another thought. That is another objection critics have made. The location, they argue, deserves amenities that enable Aucklanders to appreciate their stunning waterfront. A stadium is inward-focused. Inside, it does not matter where it is. That is true of an opera house too and Sydney has no regrets.

The proposal for Bledisloe Wharf might not be a standout building, the design concept appears to rise not far above wharf level, under a low roof of translucent material. But around it there would be public walkways and space to enjoy the harbour. It may provide steps to the water.


Ports of Auckland have been notably silent considering it would lose one of its largest wharves, albeit used mainly for receiving shipments of cars. It would stand to lose that business to another port, but if Bledisloe Wharf has to be enlarged for the stadium, and for residential apartments to help pay for it, the structure would provide a quay long enough for the latest generation of cruise ships to tie up, solving one of the port's recent problems.

A proposal to extend Bledisloe further into the harbour for cruise ships aroused successful opposition three years ago and the opponents are unlikely to be won over by a stadium. The chair of Urban Auckland, Julie Stout, said, "We are handed another scheme that wants to reclaim more harbour," to which the self-declared originator of the idea, Phil O'Reilly, replied that the scheme would not need to enlarge the port's total "footprint" on the water.

Urban Auckland says the proposal should be part of a wider plan for the waterfront and the Auckland Council's planning committee chair, Chris Darby, agrees.

The council in fact has announced such a plan, which did not envisage a waterfront stadium, and Darby does not sound well disposed to a proposal developed by a consortium of lawyers and business people. He would prefer a "big-picture vision all Aucklanders get a chance to contribute to and feel ownership of".

Well, this could be that. It is a big, bold idea that could take a little time to capture the public imagination. It answers the need for an all-weather sports and concert venue of its scale somewhere in downtown Auckland, close to bars, nightspots and public transport in all directions. It would settle Eden Park's fate and turn a prominent wharf from a carpark into a lively place, the central feature of the waterfront.

It was exciting a week ago and it is exciting still.