The Nelson Bays Rugby Union's (NBRU) bid to compete in next year's inaugural premier division remains alive after city councillors backed a much cheaper proposal to upgrade Trafalgar Park here.

However, the union has to raise bridging finance from sponsors and gain resource consent as quickly as possible for the park to be ready for the start of the 2006 rugby season.

Council staff had concluded the original upgrade proposal, which a consultant's report had predicted would cost up to $14.5 million, should not be fast-tracked because of time constraints and fairness to other sports codes.

The report by Beca Carter Hollings and Ferner said upgrading the park to the minimum standard required by the New Zealand Rugby Union would cost $5.25 million.

At a meeting yesterday, NBRU presented an alternative proposal costing $2.7 million.

Union director Nick Patterson said the union had secured the first option to buy a relocatable 8000-seat grandstand previously used at Ericsson Stadium.

A quote to replace the existing light towers from an Australian firm was less than half the $1.3 million quoted in the consultant's report, Patterson said.

Broadcasting and media facilities and coaches' boxes would be built above an existing walkway in front of the pavilion to a smaller scale than recommended by the consultant's report.

The union should know if its premier division bid was successful by June, and the upgrade could be cancelled if it was not, he said.

The union also needed no money up front from the council, as it was prepared to raise bridging finance which the council could pay back. It would underwrite the interest on a loan and was willing to commit $500,000 to $1 million from its own coffers, Patterson told the meeting.

It was "absolutely critical" the upgraded facilities were ready by late March or early April next year, he said.

Beca Carter Hollings and Ferner report author Andrew Collow said it was possible to get the upgrade work completed in time.

"But it has two real linchpins, and one is getting funding and approvals in place by June, and for resource consent procedures to start virtually straight away."

Council chief executive Viesturs Altments told councillors he was "struggling" to see how the resource consent process could be completed by June.

Councillors were largely in favour of supporting the union's proposal, and rejected the staff recommendation.

The committee pledged its support for the union's proposal, and invited it to put in an application to the regional funding forum.

Speaking outside the meeting, Nelson Rugby Union chairman Max Spence said the decision was "fantastic".

The union accepted there were "no guarantees" it would gain the necessary resource consents but was reasonably confident.

- NZPA