Councillors, courts and construction

The Forsyth Barr Stadium, pictured from Doon St, Waverley, with the north Dunedin suburb of Dalmore in the background. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
The Forsyth Barr Stadium, pictured from Doon St, Waverley, with the north Dunedin suburb of Dalmore in the background. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
The Forsyth Barr Stadium is rising from the Awatea St dirt at a remarkable rate, but while the opening day closes in, the end of the debate about the issue does not. Senior Dunedin City Council reporter David Loughrey looks at the latest flash-point issue, in the context of a looming local body election.

It is difficult to believe, with the Forsyth Barr Stadium an increasingly imposing presence on the Dunedin waterfront, that one year ago a final decision on the project was yet to be made.

The proposed building was still called the Otago Stadium, the various High Court and Court of Appeal cases brought against the proposal had yet to fully occupy the minds of the legal fraternity, and a district-plan change to allow a new "stadium zone" at the site had only recently been approved.

It is just nine months since Justice Lester Chisholm disagreed with opposition group Stop the Stadium lawyer Len Andersen's argument the project had changed significantly between annual plans, and needed to go out for further consultation.

It is a mere five months since the group's last legal avenue, a Court of Appeal hearing in Wellington, ended with a win for the Dunedin City Council.

By that time, the horse had well and truly bolted, and the stadium was rising quickly from the Awatea St dirt, as it has continued to do since that time.

But, just as quickly as the stadium has progressed, the next local body elections are approaching.

The stadium will, no doubt, be a major election issue, something clearly alluded to at a meeting this week when stadium supporter Cr Michael Guest told his fellow councillors opposed to the project they would be "judged" by voters come election day.

Stadium opponent Cr Dave Cull responded: "You're on."

Asked his views on the electorate's thinking on the stadium, Cr Guest said he was referring at the meeting to councillors who were voting against receiving a report, rather than the substantive issues, something he described as "petty".

But he hoped the stadium would not be the major election issue.

Instead, he hoped Dunedin's voters would make their decision based on wider issues of the council's stewardship of the city.

Asked whether he had views on the possible public response to councillors' voting patterns on the stadium, he said he did not.

However: "I think now that we see it rising from the ashes, and we see the quality of the people we've got on the management team, I think the people of Dunedin are really excited about [the stadium]."

October's vote should not be about "payback", but about who were the best people to run the city, he said.

For Cr Cull, the debate had never been about the stadium itself, but the risks, the affordability, and the opportunity costs of the project.

Cr Cull and his Greater Dunedin team of Crs Kate Wilson and Chris Staynes have consistently voted against the stadium, as have Crs Fliss Butcher and Teresa Stevenson.

Asked how he felt the electorate now viewed the issue, Cr Cull said while the stadium was a reality, voters would consider how responsible were the people who made decisions to impose such high levels of spending, debt and risk on the city.

He also questioned whether the councillors who struggled to win votes last time did so because of their personalities, rather than their views on the stadium.

He did not know how the electorate would respond but councillors were putting themselves "on offer" to the community.

How councillors had kept residents' financial and social interests at heart was a matter for them.

"They decide."

david.loughrey@odt.co.nz

Ashes to ashes

At the council meeting discussing the $1.8million increase in appropriation for DVML to manage the stadiums events, Cr Michael Guest, described the opposing councillors as "petulant children", with a "hidden agenda" of destroying the project. This 'trite' outburst brought back echos from the canyons of my mind, to September 2007, when Mr Guest said unequivocally, "that in six to eight weeks it will be announced that the stadium will be built, and that it will require no rate payer input." He said he would stake his career on confirmation of this, even saying he would resign if it did not eventuate. Subsequently, when challenged, he said he would "absolutely" not stand down from his council seat. Instead, he said he was staking his career on the money being eventually found.

"I still believe the stadium will be built with very little annual input from rate payers," he said. He then said by the end of six weeks, council candidates opposing the stadium "will look silly," while the public would be "very pleasantly surprised." All this brought back further echos, such as the announcement by Malcolm Farry when he said: "We are going to build a new stadium. It will be situated at Awatea St. It will have a roof, and it will not cost a cent over $188 million. And no, we will not be seeking any financial contribution from the rate payers." I feel a song coming on. Should it be, 'Sweet sweet, memories are made of this' or perhaps 'Michael row the boat ashore' ?

why not payback?

Good comment Amanda K. Yes, after all the talking up of the stadium and how Dunedin is going to benefit you'd think Cr Michael Guest would want to make it the centrepiece of his re election strategy. Has he been overcome by modesty, shy about how his efforts have helped achieve the stadium? It's funny how before the last election the pro stadium councillors were 'waiting for more information before they made the decision to go ahead or not'. Remember? It's funny too how it was these same 'undeclared' councillors (aside from MG who was at least upfront about the stadium and happened to hang on to his seat by 29 votes) who happened to find that they were satisfied with the information that the DCC/CST deigned to give them- and gave the stadium a big tick.

 

Why 'payback'?

Cr Guest says that he believes that the election should not be just about the stadium. This is odd. I would have thought that since the whole city is thrilled about the stadium and its debt, Guest would want to make the stadium the centre of the election. Wouldn't Cr Guest and other stadium supporting councillors be shouting that they alone chose the ratepayer-funded stadium, even when it was promised to be privately funded? Why are stadium councillors now downplaying their role in the stadium?

Ashes

Yes, it's about the wider management, and I do hope we get a responsible group in this time. But it will only happen if people who usually don't bother to vote get out there and do it. The sad truth is that it's the 'old guard' that keeps the 'old boys' in there.

After a year of parking hikes and debacles, compliance cost increases on just about everything, and what seems like money-making schemes coming out of the council's ears to try and increase the revenue in ways we *wont notice*, it would be the end of Dunedin financially and ethically if the same ones got back in.

As Dunedin is fast gaining a reputation as a town of cultural possibilities, trying to cut funding to libraries and museum shows where their thinking is, too. Everyone has suffered, except those that are involved in the monstrosity's construction.

If that construction is supposed to enhance the shoreline of Dunedin, I fear for our future. I also fear that those who attend matches etc there will be covered in white powder from Ravensdowne if they stay too long. Maybe this is what he meant by ashes? I guess there has to be some comeback for the rest of us.

Michael Guest's ashes comment

Cr Michael Guest's ashes comment - 'I think that we will now see it (the stadium) rising from the ashes'  - is brilliant. He can always be relied on for such comments. Subconsciously he is recognising that the community has been rendered apart by this stadium and its present physical manifestation is built on these ashes of community discontent.

Ashes?

Honestly, I'm mystified. Mr Guest thinks the stadium is "rising from the ashes" - the ashes of what exactly? Dunedin? A hope of a balanced budget for the council? Funding for our water system?

On the other hand, I do find myself agreeing with him when he says we should make our choices based on "the council's stewardship of the city". Given the budget blowouts, the insane debt increases the neverending rates rises and the bleak future of our water system, we'll be well rid of them in October.

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