'Political football': Mayor chides councillors as Chch stadium debate kicks off

Christchurch's new stadium should be open at the end of 2024, but problems are mounting.

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel has rebuked five councillors for turning debate on the city’s new stadium into a “political football”.

The city council has faced backlash since voting for a new stadium design with 25,000 sports seats. This is a change from the initial concept, which had 25,000 seats but room to add 5000 temporary seats. That option was recently found to be over budget by at least $88m.

The change was met with disappointment by some business leaders and more than 22,000 people have since signed a petition supporting the original capacity. Designers are trying to find efficiencies to make the stadium seat 27,500.

Five councillors, dubbed by some as the ‘Frugal Five’ for their previous push for financial restraint, favour the 30,000-seat capacity. The five are Sam MacDonald, James Gough, Catherine Chu, Aaron Keown and Phil Mauger.

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On Sunday, they targeted Dalziel after the mayor told Newshub the $88m for 5000 extra seats was “a lot of money for a one-night stand”.

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel says the decision to push on with the stadium's new 25,000-seat design “should not be turned into a political football by five councillors”.
Alden Williams/Stuff
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel says the decision to push on with the stadium's new 25,000-seat design “should not be turned into a political football by five councillors”.

Part of the council’s rationale for supporting the lower-capacity design was the 30,000-seat stadium would only be filled one to three times a year.

In a statement, the five councillors said they disputed the $88 million figure and called on Dalziel to release confidential council documents.

“I think [releasing the documents] would help alleviate some of the concerns from some people who are saying: ‘why would you spend $88m more?',” Cr Sam MacDonald told Stuff on Sunday.

“I need to be able to present that document so that the public can understand where we’re coming from.”

Cr Sam MacDonald says the figure of $88m for the 5000 extra seats is wrong.
Joseph Johnson/Stuff
Cr Sam MacDonald says the figure of $88m for the 5000 extra seats is wrong.

Dalziel said the decision on push on with the 25,000-seat design “should not be turned into a political football by five councillors”.

The group had “failed to comprehend” that the cost of adding the seats was down to the scale of the building and the increased span of the roof, which required more materials, she said.

“That’s why the cost of the extra seats is so high.”

Dalziel pointed out that the concert capacity of the stadium remained unchanged at 36,000. She said it was “short-sighted” that the five councillors were only focused on the capacity for major All Blacks games.

The new stadium will be built across three city blocks, bordered by Madras, Hereford, Barbadoes, and Tuam streets.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/Stuff
The new stadium will be built across three city blocks, bordered by Madras, Hereford, Barbadoes, and Tuam streets.

“The real economic benefits to the city and region are from the range of other events, all of which are catered for with the 25,000 sporting and 36,000 concert capacity,” she said.

Dalziel did not comment on whether she would release the public excluded documents. MacDonald said he had asked council staff if it was possible to release them.

Dalziel said the five did not approach her before putting their statement out. MacDonald said this was because her public comments had made it clear she did not want to re-litigate the issue.

The statement from the five councillors directed at Dalziel comes just days after they called on deputy mayor Andrew Turner, a member of Labour-aligned People's Choice group, to influence other Left-leaning councillors on a new vote.

Turner voted in favour of the new 25,000-seat design, as did the other six People’s Choice councillors.

The five wanted Turner to use his voting influence “for good this time” and call for 30,000 seats.

But the deputy mayor did not budge, saying he was not willing to increase rates by almost 1 per cent for the next 30 years to add another 5000 seats that would “rarely be used”.