John MacDonald: Memo to council - 'Please don't press pause on stadium'

Christchurch's planned new stadium Te Kaha. Image: Supplied
Christchurch's planned new stadium Te Kaha. Image: Supplied

The budget for the new Christchurch stadium - Te Kaha - has blown out again, by another $50 million.

And it's being reported that city councillors are going to have to decide soon whether to increase the budget, go back to the drawing board or press pause on the project.

Memo to council: "Please don't go back to the drawing board. Please don't press pause. We know you like to overthink and agonise over things - but please, don't stand in the way any longer. Yours sincerely, John."

Let's hope they've got a bit more fortitude to deal with this blow-out than they had when the same thing happened last year and they all suddenly became experts on stadium design and thought we could get away with building a smaller facility.

Remember all the hoo-hah when they got all knee-jerk on it and in a single day decided to reduce the seating capacity from 30,000 to 25,000? I remember challenging the mayor on the transparency of that decision - all done in a single day - and she tried to say that it was transparent because anyone could've turned up to the council meeting.

Let's hope there is a bit more transparency this time around.

But when you think back to all the panic last year, it was such a shortsighted response. Especially when you consider how it took our bean-counting councillor Sam MacDonald just one night of staying up late and working out that the cost over-run wasn't as bad as council staff had been saying.

And so, as a result of that excellent piece of work, the councillors changed their minds again and decided to press on with the 30,000 seat design.

Since then, though, material costs have gone through the roof thanks to global supply chain issues and it's now looking like the council is going to have to come up with another $50 million to pay for the stadium.

Not that they're talking about it. I see the project's independent chairman hasn't responded to media inquiries. The council's general manager of citizens and community has responded - but only to say "no comment" for now.

We invited mayor Lianne Dalziel on to the programme this morning - we were told she was at an off-site meeting and then heading straight into Annual Plan hearings.

Lianne Watson from the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce is talking, though. She's a big supporter of the 30,000-seat stadium and is saying today that cost increases aren't a huge surprise and the longer it takes to build the stadium, the more expensive it will be.

The key thing, though, is to keep our eye on the return on investment. Because the numbers tell us that the stadium is expected to bring $16 million of visitor spending to Christchurch every year.

And I know the anti-stadium brigade will say "how do they know that? Are they just numbers they've plucked out of thin air?"

They'll probably say too that Covid has shown that stadiums are a bad investment. Which could very well be the case - but is that a good enough reason not to press ahead and build the thing?

Of course it isn't! It's a risk - but it's calculated and it's one worth taking - as far as I'm concerned.

It's 11 years since we last stood in the stands at Lancaster Park. You don't want to think about that too much because it's the sort of thing that reminds you how fast life just disappears. But it's a fact.

And, after 11 years, we still don't have a world-class stadium in New Zealand's second-largest city.

But I'm not that blind to see that the council isn't going to have to prioritise a few things to pay for it. The budget was always going to blow out - especially at the pace this thing is going.

But I can tell you one thing - there will be no more money coming from the Government. That's what the Government said last year when the project went over budget and it will say exactly the same thing if Lianne Dalziel goes cap in hand again.

The thing that amazes me, is that it appears the Christchurch City Council still hasn't formally hit up the other councils here in Canterbury for money. Particularly, Selwyn and Waimakariri.

Their ratepayers will use the stadium so it's a no-brainer that those councils should be contributing financially. But, oh no, apparently Christchurch is waiting until it gets the final price tag before it asks the other councils to chip in.

Which is absolute nuts, isn't it? If they're going to wait until they get the final price tag, they won't be knocking on the door at Selwyn and Waimakariri until the thing's built.

John MacDonald. Photo: NZH
John MacDonald. Photo: NZH
But getting money from the other councils isn't the only answer to this new problem.

The council needs to prioritise spending and the first thing I'd look at if I was at the council would be trimming some of the spending going into cycleways.

Surely if they did that, and got some sort of financial commitment from the other councils, everyone could be confident that this thing is actually going to happen - and happen sooner rather than later.

-By John MacDonald, Canterbury Mornings host on Newstalk ZB Christchurch


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