For a city with more sporting arenas than it knows what to do with, Auckland sure has a funny way of dealing with it. Seems barely a month passes these days without some bright spark promoting the idea of developing another venue as a solution for having too many venues. The lack of logic is breath-taking. Never mind that we're in a recession, battling rates increases, rising costs and unemployment. Let's spend a few more million we haven't got.
The latest proposal? It comes from Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA) in the shape of a plan to, amongst other things, develop the outfields of North Harbour Stadium for the use of test cricket. Trouble is, Auckland's provincial base is firmly ensconced at Eden Park (where the Outer Oval is currently being re-claimed). Wild horses couldn't drag them from there. Do we really want to spend $15m to establish a ground at Albany for 10 days' use a year?
Before that it was a push from television identity Jeremy Wells for Victoria Park, in the CBD, to be used as Auckland's test cricket venue. Supporters, noting it was of a similar size to Wellington's Basin Reserve and South London's Oval, suggested shipping in temporary seating for the few days necessary, before returning the park to public use for the rest of the year. Full marks for initiative, perhaps, but zero out of ten for practicality.
Why wouldn't it work? The costs would be astronomical. Again, almost certainly in excess of $15m, merely to obtain test match status from the International Cricket Council. Drop-in pitches, up-to-the-minute drainage, minimum standard facilities for teams, officials and media: the compliance bills alone would be massive. Even then, without being contained by more substantial infrastructure, there'd likely be some serious issues with OSH.
Not that it's only cricket causing the problems. This has been going on for ages. It was bad enough a few years back with the nonsense about building a $500m stadium in the Waitemata harbour. More recently, Warriors chairman Bill Wavish has suggested a $300m roofed arena in the CBD. Reckons he could find $100m, the council could find $100m and ratepayers could pick up the rest of the tab. Sounds easy when you say it fast, doesn't it?
Good grief. Auckland is already suffering from stadium over-supply; another would only exacerbate the problem. As it is, the existing arenas are struggling, fighting amongst themselves for the few viable tenants in the market and asking for community hand-outs. What would happen if another complex was built? An existing one would almost certainly go under. The real cost would not just involve the success of the new but the failure of the old.
This isn't to knock the intent of the RFA. The need to streamline and better coordinate Auckland's sporting amenities has seldom been as pressing. But the answer doesn't lie with throwing more arenas at the problem or spending tens of millions redeveloping others. It lies with making the best use of existing facilities. Auckland cricket have two grounds at Eden Park; let them solve their own problems. It shouldn't be a council concern.
Elite sport has long received a charmed run in this country. Having cost taxpayers millions to wean itself off Big Tobacco, it's now taking everything it can get from the gambling industry, the booze corporations and charitable trusts. Yet there are still people who want to throw more money at it, even if it has to come from ratepayers' pockets. And this, in a so-called professional, user-pays era, when sport covets business principles over everything else.
They should be laughed out of town.
» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
» Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardboock.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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