Stadium for Auckland is world class stupidity

I live down the road from Eden Park.

As we all know it’s in the middle of a residential area and at the time of the debate about whether it should receive resource consent to erect lighting for night games in the mid 1990s it was described by a local resident as “a second rate stadium in a third rate location”. And so it is.

Local residents objected to the lights going up because daytime experiences were bad enough. Waikato games were always the worst. The boys from the farms would drive up to the games and bring a “yell till you’re hoarse, drink till you vomit and drive till you crash mentality”. Boot parties before the games, hooning, rubbish and urine soaked shrubbery after the games.

Local residents lost the lights battle and Auckland lost the chance to relocate the stadium to an industrial area. For the big games now we now have port-a-loos on the corner of our street, extra rubbish tins and a police blockade for hours before and after.

Now the issue is alive again with the out-of-nowhere debate about a stadium for the World Rugby Cup final in 2011. Michael Cullen talks about Eden Park as though he’s been resident here for years. It’s not so much in sympathy with residents however as it is to push for a “first class city” alternative in the form of a waterfront stadium.

The government says that if Eden Park is upgraded then Auckland should pay most of the $385 million cost but the government would contribute a lot more of the possible $1billion cost of a new “national” stadium on Auckland’s waterfront.

The government is thinking big. It is even basking in the warm glow of commentators who point to the stadium proposal and Helen Clark’s “first sustainable country” speech as signs of a government which still has fresh, new ideas even after part way through its third term.

But the waterfront stadium idea is ludicrous for at least three reasons. Firstly because it continues the long tradition of ad hoc planning which has dominated Auckland city administration for 40 years now and has left us in an absolute mess. Right-wing councils who supported public services with a small p have always lacked the vision of what a city should or could be. Like many New Zealand local bodies, our city fathers have been elected by popular apathy neatly summed up in one of the first pieces of political graffiti I saw when I came to Auckland “Don’t vote – Fletchers always wins”.

The city is a disaster zone. It has pathetic public transport, clogged roads and it is accepted by most that these problems will now never be solved – they can only be mitigated. More ad-hoc planning around the cabinet table in Wellington is the last thing Auckland needs.

Secondly the 35m high “bed-pan” design being shifted around on maps is particularly ugly and as many here have pointed out would be another barrier separating Auckland from our harbour. It’s a pleasure to walk around the Wellington waterfront but a struggle to get more than a cramped glance from anywhere near Auckland’s city centre.

Thirdly and most importantly though is the reckless abandon with which the government is opening the chequebook for rugby. Sports Minister Trevor Mallard who has prided himself on being the minister who says no to budget proposals for spending by other ministers is quite happy to spend hundreds of millions on a stadium which will be filled to capacity for possibly two rugby games in 2011 and extremely rarely afterwards. This might be Mallard’s national spending priority but few others would agree.

A sizeable proportion of New Zealanders enjoy rugby but a sizeable proportion wouldn’t walk across the street to watch the All Blacks and are tired of the endless hype of sponsors, advertisers and politicians looked for reflected glory from national sports successes.

Mallard’s greatest contribution as Minister of Education was to close schools, underfund the NCEA and trash Maori initiatives in tertiary education. As Minister of Sport he may well be remembered as a wasteful spendthrift. His proposal will give us world class stupidity rather than a world class city.

He should take a cold shower.

Going back a year the first proposal for 2011 was a $45 million upgrade of Eden Park involving mostly temporary seating. This common sense solution is the least of the evils on offer and the park board should raise the funds themselves just as schools have to run cake stalls for our kids’ education. Mallard should be able to give them some sensible advice about that.