Mak­ing right call on Eden Park will take courage

Weekend Herald - - Viewpoints -

Eden Park, which brands it­self New Zealand’s na­tional sta­dium, is in very poor shape. The fa­mous sub­ur­ban ground ur­gently needs care and at­ten­tion — but the trust which runs it doesn’t have the money to do the job.

More­over, it is shack­led by rules it must ob­serve from mak­ing enough to keep the place run­ning, let alone un­der­take the in­vest­ments needed to se­cure its fu­ture.

To all in­tents and pur­poses, the park is on life sup­port.

Un­der its trust deed, Eden Park is meant to be run for the ben­e­fit of rugby and cricket, as well as other codes and events, for the whole of the re­gion. What’s more the park is meant to stand on its own fi­nan­cial feet.

Pro­jec­tions in the re­port by EY pre­pared for Auckland Coun­cil and which sur­faced this week re­vealed just how far this ob­jec­tive is be­yond the abil­ity of the trust to achieve. The main­te­nance plan for the next decade is es­ti­mated to cost $62 mil­lion. The plan is un­funded.

The turf which has wit­nessed sig­nif­i­cant tri­umphs needs re­new­ing. Its war­ranty ex­pired seven years ago. Like a worn car­pet, it is kept go­ing with the ef­forts of ground staff.

The flood lights are un­re­li­able. They failed be­fore a day-night cricket game last year and could go out at any time. They need re­plac­ing at a cost of $5.6m — funds the trust does not have.

The big screens need up­grad­ing but there is no money to pay the bill.

Rev­enue is fall­ing. The golden goose in the shape of the All Blacks play at Eden Park just once this year in­stead of the usual two tests un­der an agree­ment with New Zealand Rugby. Tests are a vi­tal in­jec­tion into the trust’s cash flow. The patchy per­for­mance of the Auckland Blues over the last few sea­sons has hurt rev­enue as crowds have shrunk.

The Black Caps have only two big cricket games at the park this sea­son, in­clud­ing the T20 against Sri Lanka last night. New Zealand Cricket ap­pears to see its fu­ture bet­ter served at Western Springs. If the move comes to pass, Eden Park will lose a sport­ing pil­lar.

Fi­nan­cially, 2019 is a crunch year for the Eden Park Trust. A $40m ASB Bank loan ma­tures this year. The trust may strug­gle to re­pay the in­ter­est, let alone the loan, which is guar­an­teed by Auckland Coun­cil, even though the coun­cil by law has no say in the way the ground is run.

Coun­cil plan­ning rules how­ever do impinge on park events. Its lo­ca­tion in a sea of wooden vil­las and a feisty neigh­bour­hood wary of noisy con­certs means the big in­ner-city sta­dium will re­main si­lent most nights.

So what so­lu­tions are there for Eden Park?

Auckland has size­able sta­di­ums on the North Shore, at Mt Smart and Western Springs.

When all the ev­i­dence is in, the con­clu­sion may be that Eden Park has reached its use-by date.

Add in Eden Park and the city has four big grounds, all used spo­rad­i­cally and all re­liant, in one way or an­other, on ratepay­ers to stay in busi­ness. This gives ratepay­ers a stake in the fu­ture of the grounds. Their voice needs to be heard, be­sides the in­put from sports bod­ies which use the sta­di­ums and the groups which man­age them.

Sooner or later Auckland will have to make tough calls about its sta­di­ums, with the real prospect that one or more may need to go and that a new one is built. When all the ev­i­dence is in, the con­clu­sion may be that Eden Park has reached its use-by date.

The de­ci­sion will not be easy, but then again tough clashes at the park were never won with­out a strug­gle. The courage shown down the years on the Eden Park pitch will be needed to make the right call.

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