New stadium major coup for Canterbury rugby

Rugby officials have hailed the confirmation of a new covered stadium in Christchurch and hope it can be ready in time for the British and Irish Lions tour in 2017.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday announced a 35,000-seat rectangular stadium for sport and entertainment events will be constructed over three city blocks between Hereford and Tuam streets, bounded by Madras and Barbadoes streets.

This agreement caps the council contribution at $253m - the amount the council allowed for rebuilding the original AMI Stadium at Lancaster Park. The Crown will contribute $37m.

The council will also pay $147m of the total cost of a new Metro Sports Facility comprising an 50m competition-standard swimming pool, an indoor sports centre and a movement centre. The Crown will pay $70m and will lead the project but the council will get the final say on its design and scope.

Crusaders chief executive Hamish Riach believes the commitment by the council and the government to build a new stadium will get Canterbury back on the circuit to host top-tier rugby tests again.

Riach said "everyone in the city should be really pleased" at the commitment to provide $4.8 billion of infrastructure to earthquake-ravaged Christchurch.

He said rugby authorities had "always advocated for a 35,000-seat rectangular covered stadium" as the right option for the city's sporting future.

While Riach was delighted with the decision to confirm the stadium as an anchor project, he said there had been no details yet around "timeframe".

"That's the issue we need to get some understanding on. We will be urging the decisionmakers to think about it earlier rather than later."

Riach said it would be an ideal situation if the stadium was available by 2017 so Christchurch could host a test on the next Lions tour.

Christchurch last staged a tier-one test at AMI Stadium in August 2010 - a month before the first major earthquake. The February 2011 shake destroyed AMI Stadium at Lancaster Park and forced Rugby World Cup organisers to relocate games out of Christchurch.

Tests against Ireland last year and France earlier this month have been played at the temporary AMI stadium at Addington but the bigger matches, against Australia and South Africa, have gone to Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin.

Riach said having a 35,000-seat stadium was critical to the city's chances of hosting tier-one tests.

"If the capacity dropped much below that we would be too far down the pecking order, behind Auckland and Wellington. Eden Park in Auckland holds 50,000 fans, with special seating taking the 2011 Rugby World Cup capacity to 60,000. Westpac Stadium in Wellington has 34,500 seats with Dunedin's Forsyth Barr holding close to 31,000 for major sporting events.

Sport Canterbury chief executive Julyan Falloon said yesterday's announcement was "fantastic" news because it meant the sporting sector were getting "some resolution and some progress. Hopefully, this announcement will see that happen."

Falloon said Sport Canterbury had been hearing how individual sports had been frustrated "around the lack of progress" in the sector since the quakes.

The regional sports trust had been advocating for four major projects, the Metro Sports Facility, the rectangular stadium, a north-east Christchurch aquatic facility and the Nga Puna Wai sporting cluster near the Christchurch A and P Park in south-west Christchurch.

Falloon said it was great to hear the Metro Sports Facility and the stadium had been confirmed.

"The other obvious challenge is what happens at Nga Puna Wai. But we understand geotechnical assessments of the land in that area are going to be done in the next two to three weeks."

He said rugby would clearly benefit from having a new covered stadium in Christchurch but there could also be a "flow-on effect" for Canterbury rugby league if they are able to return to the Addington venue currently being used for the temporary AMI Stadium.

The Press