Published 28 September 2012
Auckland Council-owned Regional Facilities Auckland Ltd has worked out how to rationalise the use of the region’s major stadiums, but that didn’t mean the council was going to like it when the proposal was put before councillors yesterday.
The council answer, at the end of a long question session & debate in a meeting at Pukekohe, was to call for a workshop – more questions, but this time behind closed doors – followed by public consultation.
In essence, the issues are how to get better use of Eden Park, which has become a very expensive white elephant post-Rugby World Cup, and how to improve the use of Mt Smart Stadium without spending a possible $70 million upgrading it.
Eden Park is owned by a trust board, but the council underwrote or provided $46 million of its $241 million upgrade for the rugby cup. Post-cup, seating was reduced from 60,000 to 50,000, but no event has gone near that capacity this year. Rugby league’s Warriors, meanwhile, want Mt Smart upgraded to capacity for 30,000 – and they don’t want to go to Eden Park.
Regional Facilities Auckland put a proposal to the council yesterday, arising from a discussion paper it’s developed after talking to numerous stakeholders, that the council “agree that the Auckland stadium strategic direction consists of:
Eden Park Stadium is the primary venue for rugby union, rugby league & Auckland Cricket gamesMt Smart Stadium is a base for rugby league for training, a high performance centre & central administrationIn principle, Springs Promotion Ltd (speedway) explores options to relocate to Mt Smart StadiumRecognising Auckland Cricket’s commitment to Eden Park, explore Western Springs suitability to host test cricket & local cricket in the longer term.”
Instead, councillors voted 11-7 to support a resolution proposed by Cllr Cathy Casey that the council undertake community consultation on the issues raised in Regional Facilities Auckland’s paper, after a councillor workshop.
Cllr Casey – who was a staunch opponent of high Auckland City Council spending for the Rugby World Cup and an advocate for legacy amenities around Eden Park, which mostly didn’t eventuate – said in putting her alternative to the Regional Facilities Auckland plan: “This is not a city of stakeholders, it is a city of people and the people have not spoken on the direction of stadiums.”
Councillors did agree that Regional Facilities Auckland work with the Eden Park Trust & North Harbour Stadium “to identify opportunities to share operations & management resources where it leads to cost savings, better optimisation of capital investment, staff specialisation & the implementation of best practice across the Auckland stadium network”.
Councillors also noted that reducing Eden Park’s costs was an important requirement to retire its debt obligations to the council.
But instead of agreeing that local community discussions be held on changes to stadium use, or that Regional Facilities Auckland work with the Eden Park Trust & North Harbour Stadium “to identify opportunities where governance arrangements could be aligned to benefit the Auckland stadium network”, the councillors opted for wider consultation.
Regional Facilities Auckland’s 2 discussion papers, Stadiums Auckland, a transformational change and Auckland stadiums, A blueprint for the future, are almost entirely about internal stadium use.
They are not about the wider picture of:
how stadiums fit into a future Aucklandaccess now and how access might be changed, or how it might be better to plan towards new venues with different accesshow a future stadium or stadiums might fit more happily into their surroundshow stadiums might generate more use than occasional large-crowd audiencesor even the question of whether audience figures will continue to decline or that trend can somehow be reversed.
The last question is the most important and has consistently not been addressed in the quest to be able to host the very rare event that will fill a 60,000-seat venue.
In that light, the more pragmatic and possibly cheaper long-term option might be to dismantle Eden Park, upgrade Mt Smart (left) or create some other mid-sized venue. I advocated Mt Smart as a more sensible option than Eden Park before the Rugby World Cup, because it’s in the centre of the region, has reasonable access that could easily be improved, and long-term could have new commercial & residential uses established around it as Auckland’s industrial heartland continues to evolve.
As the council works towards releasing its unitary plan next year, a central option such as Mt Smart or a new waterfront venue might prove sensible as a long-term option. But many more questions have to be asked first, out in the open. Having closed workshops so councillors can remove the fear of being quoted out of context is hardly an appropriate way to start the debate.
30 November 2006: Sir Barry serves up roast duck
28 November 2006: Waterfront out, new governing body for all Auckland stadiums planned
27 November 2006: Stadium earning power evaluated, but downsides skipped over
27 November 2006: Tank farm action sidelined
27 November 2006: Pricing a football ground: The uncounted future factors
24 November 2006: ARC rejects waterfront stadium unanimously
23 November 2006: Waterfront stadium gets the Auckland City vote
23 November 2006: Interim stadium injunction declined
Want to comment? Go to the forum.
Attribution: Council meeting, discussion paper, story written by Bob Dey for the Bob Dey Property Report.