Bill Ral­ston

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - BILL RAL­STON

Auck­land, it seems, is not very good at mak­ing its mind up about any­thing. Driv­ing in from the air­port re­cently, I was whisked through the Water­view Tun­nel and ar­rived at our Pon­sonby place in al­most half the time the old route would have taken.

I re­call that when the tun­nel was mooted years ago, it met a storm of op­po­si­tion about the dis­rup­tion it would cause, the houses that would have to be cleared from the site and the cost. Protesters also de­clared it would be choked with sta­tion­ary traf­fic as soon as it was built.

In fact, the traf­fic was not heavy when I passed through its por­tals, the peo­ple who were dis­placed are now hap­pily liv­ing else­where and, as a na­tion, we seem to have com­fort­ably ab­sorbed the bill. I hear noth­ing but praise for the tun­nel from mo­torists freed from the eter­nal stop/start jour­ney to the air­port down Do­min­ion Rd.

Once again, Auck­land is wrestling with a con­tro­ver­sial plan. This time it is yet an­other one for a wa­ter­front sta­dium, and un­like the Water­view Tun­nel, it mer­its op­po­si­tion. The city has had this ar­gu­ment be­fore, but that has not de­terred a new group of pri­vate de­vel­op­ers com­ing up with a scheme for a 50,000-seat $1.8 bil­lion cov­ered sta­dium sunk into the har­bour floor along­side Bledis­loe Wharf. What’s more, they say, it will be free, or at “zero cost to ratepay­ers and tax­pay­ers”.

That, of course, is not re­ally the case. When you take into ac­count the port land that would be given to the con­sor­tium, the port’s lost busi­ness and the Eden Park site that the de­vel­op­ers want ac­cess to, ratepay­ers and tax­pay­ers would be fork­ing over sev­eral hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars worth of as­sets. The con­sor­tium also gets the right to build 2500 homes and apart­ments around the sta­dium and more on the 9ha of Eden Park land.

I seem to re­call, as a tax­payer, that the Govern­ment paid about $190 mil­lion of my money to spruce up Eden Park for the Rugby World Cup less than a decade ago. The ben­e­fits from that $190 mil­lion would, of course, be writ­ten off if the de­vel­op­ers flat­tened the fa­cil­ity.

De­mand for a wa­ter­front sta­dium springs largely from the fact that Eden Park is in the mid­dle of a res­i­den­tial area and the lo­cals get an­noyed by match-day traf­fic and noise – so much so that the use of the ground is re­stricted. For ex­am­ple, rock con­certs can­not be held there.

It oc­curs to me that if the pro­posed wa­ter­front sta­dium is sur­rounded by 2500 homes, some of their oc­cu­pants may ob­ject in much the same way as the peo­ple of Mt Eden to the prospect of noise from heavy-metal bands, footy crowds and traf­fic.

The con­sor­tium is in a hurry for a study to be un­der­taken into the fea­si­bil­ity of its money-mak­ing idea, which it would like the coun­cil to fund at a cost of $4 mil­lion, although it says it would pay the money back. Still, that’s al­ready a hefty price for a sup­pos­edly “free” sta­dium, even with­out tak­ing into ac­count the afore­men­tioned sev­eral hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars in land and se­abed the coun­cil would have to hand over.

Aside from the oc­ca­sional an­noy­ance to the good peo­ple of Mt Eden, what is wrong with Eden Park? Don’t an­swer that. I don’t want to start an­other Auck­land row.

I do be­lieve, how­ever, that a con­tri­bu­tion of sev­eral hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars of pub­lic as­sets for a sta­dium we don’t need is prob­a­bly a lit­tle prof­li­gate, es­pe­cially when we al­ready have a per­fectly ser­vice­able footy and cricket ground in Eden Park.

I seem to re­call pay­ing about $190 mil­lion to spruce up Eden Park less than a decade ago.

“Learn­ing cat shouldn’t be that hard – they have only one word. It’s the pro­nun­ci­a­tion I find tricky.”

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