Phoenix move to Hutt 'unthinkable' - councillor

PAUL EASTON
Last updated 05:00 19/02/2014

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The fight to keep the Phoenix in Wellington has begun, with one city councillor describing a planned move to a new stadium in Petone as "unthinkable".

"We need to do everything we can to keep them in Wellington," said Paul Eagle, who chairs the community, sport and recreation committee.

He was contacted by football fans after plans for a "boutique" $48 million arena at the Petone Recreation Ground were unveiled this week.

"They're not anti the Hutt, but they're saying Wellington is the events capital, and it's unthinkable for the Phoenix to move."

He said the Phoenix's training base at Newtown could be developed into an intimate stadium, if that was what was required. "Have all the options in Wellington really been exhausted?"

Wellington Phoenix co-owner Gareth Morgan, one of those behind the 12,000-seater Petone Arena plan, said this week that the club had considered Newtown Park, but faced planning obstacles as it was close to the town belt.

"Expanding and putting more buildings on it would cause all sorts of objections." The athletics track would also compromise the quality of the ground, he said.

Alister Skene, chairman of the Hutt City Council-controlled Community Facilities Trust, which has also been backing the Petone Arena, said people needed to look past local authority boundaries.

"As far as Gareth Morgan and the Phoenix are concerned, it's all Wellington. It's 10 minutes up the motorway."

However, if the arena is to be built as planned in time for the 2016-17 football season, Lower Hutt ratepayers will have to come up with $25m of the $48m cost.

Hutt City councillor Chris Milne said the hefty bill meant the proposal needed to be examined carefully. "If someone was to parachute it in at no cost, then great. But that's certainly not the case here." Feedback from Lower Hutt residents through the Annual Plan process was key, he said.

"There's a lot of water to go under the bridge yet."

Petone Community Board member Mason Branch said locals were "cautious" over the plans.

"On the face of it, it's a positive proposal, but there are worries about parking and noise."

Wellington Rugby Union chief executive James Te Puni said the union was not formally linked to the proposal. "We've got a current contract with Westpac Stadium and it covers the Lions, test matches, Super Rugby and the sevens, so we're committed to playing our games there."

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- The Dominion Post

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