Wednesday, November 15, 2006

That New Collossus

I’ll put it on record that I detest that cretin Trevor Mallard. As Minister of State Services, he has presided over the ballooning of the state sector. As Minister of Education, he has made New Zealand’s compulsory education sector a place of public ridicule. As Minister of Economic Development, he watches over massive slush funds to mediocre socialist cronies who can’t otherwise foot it in free enterprise, so that he can proclaim some kind of perceived wisdom of “economic transformation”. It’s a catch-phrase that has excited some of the Labour Party focus groups, but there’s not really any substance to it.

Yet I am a fair-minded person. In the sport portfolio, Mallard, in no small way aided by the fortunes of economic prosperity and ballooning government surpluses, has pushed a lot of money into sport. The results have been mixed, at best. But he has come up with our money, and got the photo opportunities. Politically, he’s been very effective.

And now we get to this stadium thing.

In 1995, as a Wellingtonian, I was edgy, at best, about Mayor Fran Wilde’s plan for the Wellington Stadium. The original cost, of $70 million, was just never likely to be contained. I really didn’t like the idea of a rugby stadium being promoted as multi-purpose—the pitch requirements for a rugby stadium, where the closely-packed spectators need to be close to the action in a ninety-minute game, are very different from a five-day test match, where the spectators lounge about for seven hours, enjoying the sun and the atmosphere, and fleeting moments of cricketing brilliance. A test cricket ground really needs to be much larger than a rugby ground: the Basin Reserve is still the finest cricket ground in the country, and even early on, nobody was silly enough to promote the proposed Cake Tin as a test cricket venue.

Those reservations aside, the Wellington Stadium is that city’s greatest asset. Sure, more people flow through Te Papa’s doors, but only the Stadium creates that intense, booze-fuelled entertainment atmosphere that makes Wellington the place to be on a Super 14 night, and will carry the bar and restaurant trade through for the subsequent few days.

Let’s look at the issues. If we assume that New Zealand needs a national stadium, the only choices are Eden Park or the Waterfront. North Harbour and Western Springs simply aren’t on the table, and they never will be.

Location. Eden Park is not a spectacular venue. I happen to live nearby, and I make sure that I’m either out of town or at the game when a big match is on. Even a half-filled Eden Park causes a traffic nightmare for the whole day. It’s a relatively minor sacrifice on the scheme of things, and is pretty much confined to Mt Eden and Kingsland residents, but it’s fair to say it’s not ideal to have a national stadium in a prime suburban area. Wellington has shown that an inner-city stadium close to public transport infrastructure is far superior to Athletic Park for rugby.

Tradition. Eden Park has been the prime rugby venue in New Zealand for eighty years. Many historic rugby games have been played there. That’s all true. The same was said of Athletic Park in 1995. Athletic Park was a dedicated rugby venue; Eden Park has never been. Despite all the nostalgia, Eden Park suffers because it has to accommodate the needs of cricket; it does neither particularly well. Eden Park has one nice façade; unless you’ve got a decent corporate box, chances are you will be uncomfortable at the Park.

Timing. Trevor Mallard is rail-roading the issue through without adequate public consultation. That’s a valid criticism. He absolutely is rail-roading it through, and he’s hijacked the process with a degree of shamelessness that only Mallard could manage. To be fair to him, tho’, the real question is what further public consultation would achieve. Already with two weeks of talks, Auckland City Council has shown that it can’t achieve consensus on anything. The Auckland region has had years to come up with decent and sound plan for Auckland roading, and is still found wanting. Mallard doesn’t have the backing of Auckland rugby or the Council; the former have a major vested interest in Eden Park; the latter are too bloody stupid to grasp the torch at the right end.

Economic and Construction Risks. Cost of construction at the Waterfront will be substantially more than at Eden Park. This is one of the critical issues. Mallard says the Waterfront option will cost taxpayers $500 million; it will probably be twice that.

Economic Viability. Mallard is promoting the Waterfront Stadium as a key part of Labour’s “economic transformation” agenda. Frankly, that argument is hogwash. Even at the most conservative cost estimate of half a billion dollars, the Waterfront Stadium would need to be run to capacity every week for the whole year to be make an economic return. That simply isn’t going to happen. Having said that, ploughing $300 million into Eden Park won’t extract any economic return, either. Stadiums as a whole simply aren’t economic investments. Nor, for that matter, is public transport. There are so-called externalities: the Auckland Viaduct has delivered “atmospheric” gains to Auckland far above the cost of construction, but there’s nothing to say that the Waterfront Stadium will transform the Ports area in a similar way. It is clear that Eden Park delivers minimal externalities to Kingsland, and that there is very little entertainment infrastructure around Wellington’s Stadium, almost seven years after opening. Typically, spectators head off to Courtenay Place after a game. It is likely that after a game at the Waterfront, crowds will head over to the Viaduct.

Feasibility of Construction. Critics claim that the Waterfront Stadium can never be built on time. Similar critics made similar claims about preparedness of Stadium Australia for the Olympics, and, for that matter, the ability of every Olympic host to be ready for the Games. While costs have always ballooned, every Olympic venue has always been ready when Games have opened. There is always a mad rush at the end, but when a national spirit is harnessed to achieve a national goal, it can be achieved.

Don Brash has reasonably floated the risks associated with the project. It is the biggest public works development since Think Big. It is potentially a political nightmare. What is clear is that the only way the Waterfront can be achieved is if somebody with Mallard’s skills rams the concept through, and if very clear risk mitigation measures are put in place. Fletcher Construction have been handed the Stadium on a plate. It’s Mallard’s job to hold them to account. It is the first visionary step from a Labour Minister in seven years. The Waterfront option will be hideously expensive for the taxpayer. But it really is the only option for a truly National Stadium.

It took the force of personality of Fran Wilde to pull together Wellington over six years; we don't have that time now. If Mallard can pull it off, I might even choose not to spit on him next time I see him. Just bloody well do it, and make sure you do it bloody well.


Anonymous said...

Live virtually next door to eden park.. Traffic is bugger all of a hassle really.

Besides, everyone who moved there, moved in to property inf ull knowledge that there would be sport there. So we can hardly complain - its as silly as moving in next to a night club and complaining about the noise/drunks etc..

The whole thing reminds me of the simpsons episode about the Monorail..




Insolent Prick said...

I actually agree, MikeE. It's not a huge issue to the residents; the real issue is that there's bugger-all transport infrastructure and parking facilities around Eden Park, and it's a bloody hassle for non-residents to get to the Park. We cannot seriously expect to host sixty thousand people at a world cup final with invitations for them to pay $20 to park on a neighbour's lawn!

It's a stupid idea to have a national stadium in the middle of a residential suburb.

Anonymous said...

Intially the cost thing was a real impediment to my approval for a waterfront stadium. It was simply not justifiable to spend $1000000000 of taxpayer money on something that would only be used 10 times a year. But on balance, the govt shovels nearly that amount down the WINZ toilet every fortnight and what do we have to shoe for most of that?
Having been in Brisbane when the then newly elected Labor state govt awarded their crony supporters who happened to own Laing Park the stadium contract, rather than going for the proposed Roma St Station disused railyards site, realised they had lost a major opportunity to set inner city Brizzy alight almost every weekend. At the same time Jeff Kennett was re-invigorating melbourne, with the result that 10 years later Melbourne is now voted one the best cities in the world for events. Essentiallythey now have a major world scale event every other month on average, bringing in millions of visitors each year.
So I applied the Kennet test, of will this make the city a more vibrant one? The only answer is that it will.
Yes this stadium will be expensive, but it will work, wespecially if they are able to give it multi-use abilities like a berth, and have everyday activities like a tourist centre, and function centre built into the thing. They could even have a hotel tacked onto the side of the thing if necessary to split costs and increase revenue (from rent) like in canada.
The govt seem determined to not leave national any funds for when they relinquish power, and will blow the Billion bucks anyway, so why not a national stadium?
It is not as if they are going to finish eden park, properly by building a subway, and bus interchange with dedicated carparking underneath it.

However I fear that NZ's pathetic we can't do that here sentiment will kill it, and that Mallard has ensured this is to be the path, by leaving up to the councils to decide.

It would a delicious Irony though, to have John Key opening the new stadium in 2011. I would pay to see the Duck's face then, I wounder if it would look like a Heinie had been shoved up his heiny

Insolent Prick said...

Yes, those are my thoughts. The Waterfront Stadium, even with no budget blowout, is a huge waste of taxpayers' money.

But it's a much better waste of taxpayers' money than any one of a thousand other things Labour will waste your money on in the next two years.

Eden Park is a mediocre proposal. The Waterfront proposal gives Auckland an opportunity for a world-class National Stadium.

Rob's Blockhead Blog said...

it's simple.

Sell Eden Park for real estate. With current property values that should go a long way to cover any cost blowout on the waterfront.

Anonymous said...

it would be a great water treatment plant site, to allow the onshore processiong of the higher density populations to be accommodated in the burgeoning rezoned adjacent suburbs

Insolent Prick said...


I still don't know why your comments don't appear in the comments pane, but do below the article.

Eden Park's worth about $30 million as bare land. A fair chunk of it could be used in conversion, preserving the historic facade. It's pretty attractive as a property development, but they'd have to dig cricket out and find a suitable cricket venue to replace it with.

Heine said...

Anon, stop using my name in vain!!!! ;)

Anonymous said...

I live near Eden Park as well. And I agree we can work around traffic issues - usually because you can try and plan ahead. Although it is a bit hard soemtimes with Kids after school stuff.

But as you say issue is in 40yrs time what will be the normal traffic increase down Dominion/Sandringham rd? and to try and fund extra costs, they'll need to find extra games etc.
At the waterfrotn they could maybe host League as well - maybe 35+ decent game sof rugby/league a year - and other events. Eden PArk / and arterial roads just could never cope.

Also it's just not a great experience for fans. I had a mate last year, coming from CBD to my palce and then onto the game. He dumped his cab about a km away and walked! wasn't too impressed.

And after the game Kingsland /Dominon rd would be lucky to cope with 2-3,000 people - it's just not enough - especially to create a good atmosphere.

Anonymous said...

1. Why the hell does NZ need a national billion dollar sports stadium that will never make a profit. Let's face it, those who want to go there won't pay a $2000 ticket price every time they want to see a match... nope, those people think I should pay 90% of their ticket price.

2. But, why should I, or my kids, be charged with yet another collective life time mortgage all because some guy in a sports club, invited other sports clubs to come and play. Why is this my problem again? I’ve actually got more important financial priorities that I would like to take care of, if that’s OK with you guys?

But I suspect I won’t have a choice huh.

3. After the world cup, how many years will go pass before it's filled to capacity again? - Eden park rarely fills up as it is, and North Harbor is just another tax payer trophy for their amateur counselors, (and you're not entitled to know how much money it is losing every year because it's ‘commercially sensitive’).

Yeah, just what our current stadiums need is more competition.

4.”It’s Mallard’s job to hold them to account”. This wanker can’t even hold himself to account, and you expect him to act like a Project Sponsor on a job of this size?? – it’s a bit more than that failed school teacher can manage I’m afraid.

But why is that dickhead deciding on where the final will be played anyway, surely it’s literally none of his business, it’s the rugby board that is in the business of rugby.

5. It’s this kind of unconditional nationalistic shit that puts me off rugby. I’m sorry, and I know this is blasphemous, but at the end of the day it’s just a fucken sports game, it’s not the cure for cancer. Like all businesses, and the Rugby board is just one of them… if I like their product, I will pay for it, if I don’t, don’t ask for my money…..except in this case, they not asking nicely, they are just going to take it.

You’re looking at least $10m per year to run this thing… that’s allot of tickets to sell… not to mention the opportunity cost of a billion dollars (and it will be a billion, when time starts running out, the costs will sky rocket, make no mistake).

Oh but the economic benefits!…

Enough to pay for the stadium and all the infrastructure improvements? Sorry, that sounds like a beer ad.


Insolent Prick said...


I agree. The economic benefits from a waterfront stadium are impossible to calculate, and at best it's pie in the sky stuff. There will never be an economic return on a five hundred million+ stadium.

Unfortunately, very little of what Government does achieves an economic return. Like it or not, we have a Labour Government right now. Much of its spending is next to worthless.

The government currently spends $50 billion of your money every year. Labour will not give any of your money back in tax cuts. If we don't spend it on a stadium, government will find a million other completely useless ways to spend your money. At least with a stadium many more of us can enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

yeah I know where you're coming from IP...

I just can’t get over the fact that someone is going to spend (without asking) a billion dollars of someone else’s money on a sports game, and actually feel good about it.

I just hope that the NZ rugby board members end up in the same hell as the commie bastards in Wellington.

Even Trotter is against the idea…

Anonymous said...

Only one thing needs to be said.

There is insufficient time for public consultation.

This is the question that will go to the courts.

Mallard and Hubbard are wasting our precious time - at a busy time of the year.

The National Party crisis, triggered by Brash's injunction, has probably come at a bad time too. It will dominate the news for quite some time.

Vote NZ First.

Rattus Norvegus said...

I agree with Mallards logic

"look at the size of my knob"

Dave said...

Moana Mackey May have worked for Mobil, but it was her presidency of Young Labour that got her selected. ANds as we all know, Young Labour is a haven for the rainbow community. Part Maori too.