There's no such thing as a free lunch, let alone a waterfront stadium

by Bill Ralston / 20 November, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Auckland waterfront stadium

An artist's impression of the proposed Auckland stadium.

As controversy continues over Auckland's proposed waterfront stadium, Bill Ralston looks at the merits and flaws of the plan.

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.

This column was first published in the November 24, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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