Stadium: Councillors' lips zipped

The countdown is on, the reports are being scrutinised, but the eagerly anticipated information that will seal the fate of Dunedin's proposed stadium was still under wraps last night.

Councillors were unusually united in their refusal to tell the Otago Daily Times anything about a briefing held yesterday by the Carisbrook Stadium Trust, with a firm ‘‘no comment'' from most who returned calls.

City and Otago regional councillors looked subdued and serious as they left the meeting at the regional council chambers in Stafford St.

The Dunedin City Council postponed a media briefing on the stadium scheduled for yesterday, but the trust plans to hold a media briefing today.

Monday, when the stadium will be discussed by the city council's finance and strategy committee meeting, has been described as ‘‘D-Day'' for the project.

However, Cr John Bezett said it was possible the council might just decide to continue to fund the trust's investigations.

Cr Paul Hudson has put in an apology for Monday's meeting, meaning there could be only 14 councillors present at the meeting.

Mayor Peter Chin said a council response to the trust's report - in the form of a council report and staff recommendation to go to Monday's meeting - would be available before the weekend.

Reports have to be made public by local authorities two working days before a meeting under the Local Government Act 2002, but Mr Chin said because the 170-page report had only arrived this week, a council report could not be produced within the usual timeframe.

Last night, Mr Chin said he did not know when the council's report would be made public, but it would be before the weekend.

‘‘It's not for want of trying, but it was always going to be a close call. There's a hell of a lot of people working flat-stick to bring out that report. We want to put as much information as we can in the public agenda.''

Not all the information being considered by the committee would be in the public agenda, as some would be confidential.

Cr Hudson lodged the only apology for Monday's meeting saying he had another engagement, although he said yesterday it was not certain he would not be there. He is a councillor who has, at times, been reluctant to support the stadium.

Mr Chin said he did not think his absence would affect the decision.

‘‘The important thing is we have a quorum [of eight councillors]''. 

Mr Chin hoped there would be a clear decision. He would not speculate on Cr Bezett's suggestion there might not be a final decision, but agreed any motion could be put forward.

On Monday, following the finance and strategy committee meeting, there will be a full council meeting to ratify whatever decision the committee makes, so it can be included in the council's annual plan for public consultation.

Finance and strategy committee chairman Cr Richard Walls could not be contacted yesterday, and it was unclear whether the council will be releasing peer reviews of the trust's work.

But the deputy mayor, Cr Syd Brown, said as much as possible of the debate would be held in public, with only commercially sensitive material dfebated behind closed doors. The Otago Daily Times understands that relates to issues such as land negotiations and contract prices.

None of the eight councillors contacted by the Otago Daily Times yesterday would comment on the briefing or say which way they planned to vote.

Cr Colin Weatherall said the report contained information on a change to the roof design, and consideration of astro-turf, but as he was away on business, he had only ‘‘spot-read'' it.

Cr Andrew Noone, and other councillors, said they would not comment, as they wanted the debate to be held in public at the meeting on Monday, rather than through the media.

Cr Bezett said if, for instance, the trust had not completed negotiations on buying land at Awatea St but he was satisfied it was heading in the right direction, he could vote to ‘‘continue with negotiations''.

- An extra meeting of the Otago Regional Council's finance and corporate committee will be held next week to enable it to consider the implications of the city council's decision on the stadium.

The regional council has maintained it would not make a decision on including funding for the proposed stadium in its annual plan until after the city council made its decision.

Corporate services director Wayne Scott said the timing had impacted on the ORC's schedule for its Long-Term Council Community Plan and 2008-09 Annual Plan process.

The plans were to be considered at yesterday's committee meeting before council consideration on March 26, so an additional committee meeting was scheduled for March 19 at 1.30pm so the process would not be delayed.f

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