Can Auckland Council and Goff be trusted?

Can Auckland Council and Goff be trusted?

Tim Hunter at NBR doesn’t think so: Quote:

If Auckland Council wore a flat cap, cupped a fag end in its fist and stood on a street corner keeping an eye out for the cops it could scarcely look more shifty.

Sure, its latest ?Venue Development Strategy? is dressed up to mimic a carefully thought out, consultative and trustworthy approach but it?s as see-through as the sales pitch at a second-hand car yard.

The main thrust of the thing is to make the case for a new covered stadium.

Regional Facilities Auckland, the council body responsible for managing its venues such as Mt Smart stadium in Onehunga and QBE stadium in Albany but not Eden Park bashfully gives credit for the stadium idea to others.

?The suggestion from football codes that a fully covered international stadium and precinct be developed in Auckland?s city centre is one that RFA considers has strong merit as a means of achieving the objectives of a fit-for-purpose stadium in an appropriate location that caters for multiple users,? it says.

Of course, to put forward the need for a new stadium you must demonstrate insurmountable faults with the existing one. Sure enough, RFA gives it a go.

?An alternative is to invest further in Eden Park and redevelop it as a rectangular stadium for all football codes. Like investment in a new central city stadium, this would also be at significant cost.?

Last time I looked Eden Park was already rectangular but what RFA really wants to say is the place needs redevelopment and it will be really expensive ? the word ?also? is placed into the sentence to imply a comparable outlay to a new stadium.

This is the same argument put forward by Mayor Phil Goff when he came into office and it?s so slippery you could put it in a fish tank and call it an eel. End quote.

Two pretty damning statements there, but hard to disagree with when you look at the facts: Quote:

Here?s a wee example.

In October 2016 Mr Goff gave a radio interview in which he was widely quoted remarking Eden Park would need $250 million spent on it over the next 15 years. That would be a poor investment, he said, compared to building a new $1 billion stadium near the city centre next to Vector Arena.

He wasn?t asked where he got the $250m figure from so I asked the council, who said the advice was provided to Mr Goff orally by RFA.

When I filed an Official Information Act request for the analysis supporting this advice the council, responding on behalf of itself and RFA, refused it because ?the document does not exist.?

Under section 12 of the Local Government OIA the council is required to transfer a request to the relevant department where a document is held, which is odd because, when I asked the RFA, it turned out there was indeed a document.

RFA director of stadiums Paul Nisbet said the briefing to Mr Goff was based on ?independent research commissioned by RFA to assess, among other things, the requirements of a multi-use national stadium.?

So the document did exist but Mr Nisbet said it would not be released because it was ?commercial and confidential.?

Naively believing that the notion of an estimated upgrade cost of Eden Park could not possibly qualify as commercially confidential and that the council had illegally claimed the briefing document did not exist, I complained to the Ombudsman.

A year later the Ombudsman ruled the council?s initial claim that the document did not exist was just a mistake. As the council put it: ?We accept that the council could have contacted RFA to find out if there was any underlying analysis supporting the briefing that was provided to the mayor? ? a statement that implies the mayor blurted the $250m figure to the media while believing RFA had just made it up.

However, the Ombudsman said RFA was entitled to withhold the information, not because it was commercially confidential, but because its release would inhibit the ?free and frank expression of opinions by staff and external consultants? ? a reason the council hadn?t even put forward in its initial refusal.

So even though Mr Goff had made great play in public about the cost of upgrading Eden Park and used it to support his promotion of the need for a new stadium, the supposed evidence for his claims could be kept secret from public scrutiny.

In a December 2017 letter the council then explained that the $250m figure was based only on a professional?s expertise and ?included a tolerance.? Anyway, it said, ?RFA advises that since the time of the briefing the report has been through various amendments and any detail relating to Eden Park has been removed.?

This is convenient because the final report would no longer qualify for secrecy under the ?free and frank? exclusion. It is also odd because RFA is still claiming the supposed cost of upgrading Eden Park is a factor in considering the merit of a new stadium.?End quote.

Just one example of sneaky, furtive and shifty behaviour from Goff and his staff. There are more: Quote:

Meanwhile, a $1m report on a downtown stadium, commissioned by Mr Goff from PWC, was finally released last week on the orders of the Ombudsman after the council made strenuous efforts for months to block Radio NZ?s attempts to get it.

Anyone would think the council was unsure its stadium arguments would stand up to scrutiny.

It certainly should be.

?A city centre stadium precinct would have the potential to energise and invigorate the central city as has been demonstrated in similar developments in other countries,? RFA says.

Wrong. The economic evidence on the impact of stadiums is inconclusive at best. In a 2017 poll for the University of Chicago?s Initiative on Global Markets, 57% of the economists surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that: ?Providing state and local subsidies to build stadiums for professional sports teams is likely to cost the relevant taxpayers more than any local economic benefits that are generated.? Just 2% disagreed.

A new stadium could be ?flexible and scalable? like BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, with an upper tier that can be cloaked ?to create the effect of a smaller ?club? venue for those events with smaller audiences.?

BC Place was upgraded in 2011 with a retractable roof (the previous one was air-supported fabric) at a cost of $C563m ($630m), paid by taxpayers. Average annual revenue in the three years prior was $C13.2m, not including 2010 when revenue of $18.1m was boosted by the Winter Olympics. Average revenue in the last four years was $C13.5m.

Perhaps the cloaking helps take taxpayers? minds off the enormous cost of the extra seats they hardly use.

?The development of a new international stadium ? could likely be advanced by Auckland hosting a major international event,? says RFA, apparently oblivious to putting the cart before the horse.

The enthusiasm for promoting bogus reasons in support of a new stadium should make anyone sceptical but the council?s record of secrecy, blocking and obstruction of efforts to uncover the facts is a screaming warning sign that this council can?t be trusted ? and trust is surely the first thing a council should be aiming for if it wants to persuade us that spending huge sums of money is a good idea.?End quote.

It is all about building a monument. Len Brown built a whitewater park, and I shudder to think how much red ink is bleeding from that little project.

Can Phil Goff and his Council be trusted?