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Rafting site controversy

SCOTT MORGAN
Last updated 05:00 02/10/2012
Rafting Course

ON AGAIN: Plans for a whitewater rafting course at the Pacific Events Centre go before an Auckland Council committee on Thursday.

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Five-time Olympic medallist Ian Ferguson is backing calls to build a multi-million dollar whitewater rafting course at the Pacific Events Centre in Manukau.

The controversial $30 million proposal, initiated by the Counties Manukau Pacific Trust, would be funded by the sale of $20 million of council land at the centre, and private sponsorship.

It's a similar proposal to one rejected by the Manukau City Council in 2009 when the trust asked for $40 million to fund it.

Mr Ferguson, who would have run the centre in 2009 if it'd been given the go-ahead, says the project - now called Wero - would be fantastic for Auckland's children.

"It's a water stadium where kids from all around Auckland would come and enjoy themselves.

"It would be well used - there's no worries about ratepayers not getting their money's worth."

He's not involved with the new proposal, which is expected to be raised again at the council's strategy and finance committee on Thursday.

But the New Zealand kayaking coach also sees the facility's tourism potential.

"Most people fly into Auckland. They can land and just down the road head off for an adventure."

It would also allow tourists to practise in whitewater conditions before heading off to other parts of the country, he says.

But the proposal still has its detractors, with Howick councillor Dick Quax leading the charge against it.

He says the trust made $12m from the sale of land when it was sold before the super-city amalgamation.

The land reverted to Manukau City Council after the original buyer couldn't meet conditions, which stated that any use had to complement events held at the Pacific Events Centre.

"That land belongs to the ratepayers," Mr Quax says.

"The trust already made money from the first land sale and they are not entitled to any more."

The Olympic medallist is also questioning why the land is being administered by Regional Facilities Auckland - the council body that oversees the trust.

It should have been given to Auckland Council Property - another council-controlled organisation - after the super-city amalgamation. he says.

"I'm very, very suspicious as to why the land ended up with the RFA."

Mr Quax says the project should be undertaken by the private sector if it is a viable one.

Pacific Events Centre chief executive Richard Jeffery says building the centre using proceeds from the land sale would benefit the south, rather than other parts of Auckland.

"We've got a fantastic young community that deserves something special. It would be nice to have a regional project for our community that's not on the waterfront.

"All we are wanting to do is finish what we were set up to do," Mr Jeffery says.

"It's a bit of an embarrassment, that bare land."

Whitewater rafting projects around the world have been built by local authorities rather than the private sector, including for events like the London and Sydney Olympics, he says.

And if councillors approve the proposal, Mr Jeffery hopes there'll be public consultation so people can have their say.

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The proposed completion date for the project is 2015 or 2016.

- Manukau Courier

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