The Prime Minister, John Key, has come out in favour of a “world-class covered stadium” for Christchurch.
At the time of writing, opinion on the accompanying stuff poll is split 52% in favour and 48% opposed (485 votes). It has to be added, though, that the comments were running overwhelmingly against the idea.
Of six options put forward by the Christchurch City Council, a 35,000 seat capacity covered stadium is the most expensive, at $144m. John Key favours it, apparently in his heart of hearts: “I really believe that Christchurch can support a world-class covered stadium.“.
Meanwhile, in what amounts to an interesting pincer movement – whether by accident or design – Key’s Deputy, Bill English, apparently favours Christchurch following the government’s lead and part-selling its assets to fund its expensive recovery.
The Prime Minister does state that “In the end, what’s built and how it’s paid for is largely a matter for Cantabrians,” but putting the Prime Ministerial weight behind one option is, at best, imprudent and, at worst, mischievous.
As a lot of the comments on the article reflect, there’s an already inflamed context into which this opinion has been dropped like a still burning fag-end onto a tinder-dry roadside.
The reason the Prime Minister supports a covered stadium is that “There’s a long and proud sporting history in Canterbury, and Christchurch needs a stadium that reflects that.“ All the previous – uncovered – stadia used in Christchurch (i.e., Lancaster Park under its various names) presumably didn’t reflect this “long and proud sporting history” in quite the way that a covered stadium would.
In another reported comment, Key goes further:
John Key is pushing for what he calls a decent stadium for Christchurch.
$30 million was spent on transforming Rugby League Park in Addington into the new AMI Stadium, after the one in the city was damaged in the earthquakes.
The Prime Minister says while the city can limp along with a temporary stadium, Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island and where all the growth is set to take place.
“Link it in with high performance sport and all those other things. Whether they have the roof or not well I guess they have to go through those numbers, but I reckon Christchurch can support that.”
John Key says it’s also important Christchurch has a decent stadium because the culture of the city is all about sport.
Where to begin?
How about Christchurch “limp[ing] along with a temporary stadium”? Certainly, the Crusaders’ recent form has not been great so I guess they are “limping along” and they probably need a better place to play their “crap rugby” but it’s a stretch to say that Christchurch is “limping along” with a temporary stadium.
A few weeks ago, at the open day of the Addington AMI stadium it was all about how great the rapidly built stadium was. But, sadly, all those naysayers were right – it’s a “limp along” kind of a place, barely enough solace for rugby fans and, according to Key, obviously not a “decent stadium”.
And, it used to be the place – the ‘home’ – of Rugby League – as a few disaffected letters to the editor in The Press (and comments on the link above) indicate. There’s also more than a few people disgruntled at the finger-snapping quickness with which the stadium was built and the handover of $30m, no questions asked, to smooth the process.
All, of course, set against a Christchurch backdrop of frustration, physical destruction and dereliction of infrastructure and lack of money for so many other general – and rebuilding – needs.
Then there’s another sporting hotspot that has incited heated debate in the letters columns of The Press. Sports bodies are targeting the ‘spare’ land in Christchurch’s sacrosanct Hagley Park.
First, there are plans for an international cricket ground on the Hagley Oval:
The plan is being driven by Canterbury Cricket, headed by former Black Cap Lee Germon. Essentially, it involves converting Hagley Oval, in South Hagley Park, into a ground capable of hosting international cricket.
But, as one prominent opponent of the plan, former Wigram MP Jim Anderton points out:
“There has been a certain amount of secrecy surrounding things that does nobody any justice. It’s not just the plan – the physical works proposed have not been clearly spelt out.
“None of it is out there for public discussion.”
Now, lack of transparency and having decisions foisted on them is becoming a very familiar feeling for Christchurch residents, and Cantabrians further afield. Even before the earthquakes, the main complaint about Mayor Bob Parker was about the lack of transparency of decisions (Dave Henderson’s bailout, the Ellerslie Flower Show purchase, etc.) and the way councillors were often given remarkable short notice of the documentation needed to make those decisions.
Then there was ECAN.
Now there is CERA.
That people feel it happening over the proposed cricket ground is simply one more blow on a bruise.
But wait … there’s more. Hagley Park is also now being eyed up for, you guessed it, a sporting hub. Sport Canterbury believe the Park is just ideal for siting a replacement for QEII stadium which now has a demolition order hanging over most of it.
[It's another - vexed - story, but the loss of QEII from the eastern suburbs has been fought by residents and its two councillors - Glenn Livingstone and the newly elected, ex-Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Peter Beck - both want a stadium retained in the east. Yet more bad blood.]
Apparently, the reaction to Geoff Barry’s (of Sport Canterbury) suggestion has been ‘hot and frothy‘, according to Greg Ford. But in the kind of ‘join the dots’ exercise that will confirm many Christchurch residents’ feelings of powerlessness, Ford notes:
The day before The Press splashed his ideas in our sports section Barry met Warwick Isaacs’ team.
Isaacs is the boss of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority’s Christchurch Central Development Unit. They will make all the major decisions on the future of Christchurch.
Isaacs has less than 90 days to present his plan to Gerry Brownlee and will in all probability adopt Barry’s impressive and comprehensive Places and Space strategy to save time.
That doesn’t mean the bulldozers will roll into Hagley Park in late July. But it does mean the concept of tinkering with this jewel in our city is being talked about and is very much in the minds of the people who matter.
Yes, here in Christchurch we may not have much ‘bread’ but we have more than enough sport ‘circuses’ to keep us occupied many years into the so-called earthquake recovery.
Then there was that last comment from John Key to the effect that: “the culture of the city is all about sport“. All about sport?
At the same time as the $30m dollar Addington stadium is being toted for an upgrade to become a ‘decent stadium’, Hagley Park as an international cricket venue and ‘sporting hub’ there’s a couple of other cash-strapped projects, of a decidedly non-sporting kind, that have at least some Christchurch residents concerned.
The first is the obvious one – the demolition of Christ Church Cathedral. As I’ve noted previously, it may well have been a different story = perhaps – if something like $30m were on offer (not to mention $144m). There’s also innumerable heritage buildings – - demolished because of the costs of earthquake upgrading and more recent buildings such as the Christchurch Town Hall that could probably do with a cash injection along the lines of the ‘limp along’ stadium in Addington.
There’s another building, though, that shows that Christchurch isn’t ‘all about sport’.
The Isaac Theatre Royal – an historic, heritage theatre that has hosted plays, ballet, opera, concert and public events – is in need of substantial funds to be restored and strengthened. A concert just raised $10,000 and support has been coming in from high profile actors and entertainers. The general manager, Neil Cox, explains the approach and contributions so far:
The collective fundraising efforts of Margolyes, Martin, McKellen, and the Flight of the Conchords, were likely to raise about $300,000.
The creator of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Richard O’Brien, had also personally donated $55,000, he said.
“Across the next year we are looking to raise anywhere between $5 million and $6 million and we are a way down that track already.”
No-one seems to have told them that Christchurch is ‘all about sport’.
But wait, help might be at hand – Has anyone told John Key about ‘theatre sports’?