Councillors, courts and construction

The Forsyth Barr Stadium, pictured from Doon St, Waverley, with the north Dunedin suburb of...
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."

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