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Cablegate: New Zealand: Auckland Stadium Debate Highlights

DE RUEHWL #0927/01 3280246
P 240246Z NOV 06





E.O. 12958: N/A

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1. (SBU) Summary. Aucklanders are locked in an emotional
debate over where to build a stadium to host the 2011 Rugby
World Cup. The debate has highlighted the divided nature of
decision-making in New Zealand largest city, as well as
Auckland's uneasy relationship with the rest of the country.
End summary.

2. (U) The debate over the site for a new rugby stadium has
dominated headlines and cocktail party chatter in New
Zealand's largest city, and indeed in many parts of the rest
of the country, for the better part of November. When New
Zealand was chosen in November 2005 to host the 2011 Rugby
World Cup, it promised to build a 60,000 seat stadium to hold
the event.

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A New Cathedral for the Unofficial National Religion?
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3. (U) Until early November, public discussion had meandered
over whether to renovate the sentimental but timeworn home of
New Zealand rugby, Eden Park, or build an entirely new
stadium. On November 10, Minister for the Rugby World Cup
Trevor Mallard (1) announced the government's preference for
a new, landmark national stadium on the Auckland waterfront
and (2) gave local government in Auckland until November 24
to choose between a waterfront stadium and the renovation of
Eden Park. If the city could not decide, Mallard threatened
to move the World Cup to Jade Stadium in Christchurch.
Shortly thereafter, Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard came out
strongly in favor of the waterfront option.

4. (SBU) It would be reasonable to presume that support from
the national government and the mayor would settle the
matter, but that would overlook the competition between
overlapping power bases that threatens to undermine efforts
to make Auckland a world class city by the standards (if not
the size) of its neighbors across the Tasman Sea.

Divided Government, Divided Public Opinion

5. (U) The greater Auckland area, home to 1.4 million of New
Zealand's four million citizens, is not one city, but many.
It is composed of Auckland City and three other cities, each
of which has its own elected council and mayor, as well as
three nearby districts. Yet another body, the Auckland
Regional Council (ARC), separately elected and funded, has
authority over Auckland's waterfront and parks as well as
responsibility for planning the development of the Auckland
region as a whole. Further adding to the muddle, the ARC
oversees a holding company whose portfolio includes Ports of
Auckland, the port management company that would have to give
up a portion of its property for the waterfront stadium.

6. (SBU) Public opinion over the stadium is divided. An
ongoing (and unscientific) survey of the Auckland based New
Zealand Herald readers shows two-to-one opposition to the
waterfront stadium. However, as the survey sample is
self-selected, it is likely skewed towards "no" voters who
tend to be more vehement than waterfront supporters. Some
oppose the waterfront stadium because of the cost. Even
waterfront supporters admit in private that it would cost
considerably more than the NZ$500 million (USD 330 million)
officially estimated. A full upgrade of Eden Park would cost
much less. Others believe the stadium would be a blemish on
the waterfront, a sterile behemoth that would be empty and
desolate most of the time. Still others claim that a
waterfront stadium, built on piles in the harbor, could not
be completed in time.

7. (SBU) Nonetheless, advocates of a waterfront stadium
seemed to gain some steam as the November 24 deadline
approached. The Herald bucked its own reader poll and came
out on November 22 in favor of the waterfront plan. Like the
rest of the pro-waterfront crowd, the Herald argued in favor
of an iconic structure that would be a catalyst to turn
Auckland into a world-class city. Some of the most
starry-eyed waterfront advocates see such a stadium as
Auckland's own Sydney Opera House that would turn the
underutilized harbor area into a true city center, something

WELLINGTON 00000927 002.2 OF 002

Auckland lacks.

On The Waterfront...

8. (U) The Auckland City Council met on the evening of
November 23 to vote on the stadium, after a court denied an
injunction to block the meeting requested by a group of
waterfront opponents. After the contentious five-hour
discussion, a 13-7 majority of councilors backed Mayor
Hubbard's support for the stadium. However, a majority of
the Council also called for the stadium to be built along the
waterfront further east than the site Mallard proposed, a
move that would further disrupt the operations of Ports of

...Or Not

9. (U) Barely twelve hours after the Auckland City Council
supported the waterfront option, the Auckland Regional
Council voted unanimously in favor of Eden Park. ARC
Chairman Mike Lee argued that the Eden Park option would be
cheaper and less risky. He also argued that the waterfront
option would adversely affect the operation of the port (as
noted above, Ports of Auckland is owned by the ARC).
Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard, after the ARC vote, seemed
to back away slightly from supporting the waterfront option,
saying that the Auckland City Council's vote had been
"conditional" and that he would like to have seen more
information on the impact of the waterfront stadium on the

Comment: Unpopular Auckland

10. (SBU) While it is likely that Eden Park will host the
2011 Rugby World Cup, waterfront proponents may make another
push. It seems still more likely that the split decision
will renew calls for a fundamental reconsideration of the
Auckland region's governance structure.

11. (SBU) The stadium debate also shed light on the testy
relationship between Aucklanders and other New Zealanders.
Auckland is wealthier, far larger, and much more
multicultural than other NZ cities. Aucklanders are seen as
money-focused, materialistic and unfriendly and those who
live outside Auckland believe the city absorbs more than its
fair share of government resources. Some argue that the
divided nature of Auckland government suits the rest of the
country fine, as a single, unified Auckland authority might
greatly increase what many Kiwis believe is its already
disproportionate influence on national affairs.

12. (SBU) Aucklanders, in contrast, see the city as the
country's forward-looking, dynamic and cosmopolitan economic
engine, and believe the city gets shortchanged in the
resource tussle with rural areas and smaller cities. While
non-Aucklanders resent having to pay for a stadium that they
believe will only benefit the city, Aucklanders resent the
tight-fistedness of their fellow countrymen, who seem willing
to fund prestigious but money-losing projects in other
cities. This may be why the government seems to have decided
to pay for the bulk of a waterfront stadium through
sponsorship and hotel and airport taxes that will fall
neither on Aucklanders nor other Kiwis, but on foreign

13. (SBU) The arena debate also has national political
implications. We will report on these septel.

© Scoop Media

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