Eden Park’s concert costs questioned

Eden Park residents have emerged victorious from a bruising battle with the stadium's trust board over a concert that was promoted as a way of raising $4 million to save the lives of thousands of babies. 

There will be no LIfePod Appeal concert on Waitangi Day next year after the board decided yesterday to withdraw its application for resource consents, citing time constraints and "the prospect of substantial Environment Court costs". These were put at between $750,000 and $1 million, before legal fees - an estimation by the board's lawyers, Meredith Connell. 

A Newsroom inquiry this week cast doubt on the claims of organiser Sir Ray Avery's scientific work and the readiness of the incubator pods to be put into action. Now the Eden Park Residents' Association says it could never get clear answers to its early questions on the charity and actual funding components. And the Auckland Council says while it can't speculate what the board's actual costs would have been with the Environment Court process, its charges relating to the resource consent and the board's decision to refer the application to the Environment Court are estimated to be around $250,000. 

The council's regulatory services director Penny Pirrit said the council had advised the Trust Board and its lawyers of those estimated costs based on previous applications that were more complex. And Pirrit rejected the board's comparison in a news release this week to costs involved in the Matiatia Bay Marina case on Waiheke Island. 

“This application is in no way similar to the recent Matiatia Bay Marina case, which was highly complex, had five weeks of court hearing time, and had a number of significant coastal and land based issues that the court needed to consider in order to reach its decision,” she said. 

"The council’s charges include staff costs, expert advice and legal costs. The charge also depends on other factors, such as the number of parties involved, the number of witnesses called and how long the hearing takes. Bearing that in mind, there is a possibility that the estimated charges could be less."

She said while the consent application was contentious, it wasn't a particularly complex application. Many of the effects of the concert would be similar to a large sporting event, and some of the main considerations for the court were likely to be concert noise and the effects on neighbours. 

Those neighbours were well underway with their Environment Court preparation, but their spokesman said it was still a relief not to have to spend time and money on the process. 

Eden Park Neighbours' Association President Mark Donnelly says this was the sixth failed attempt to get concerts at Eden Park, and there are basic physical effects - especially for noise - that make the stadium unsuitable. 

"Auckland is well catered for events, and is successfully hosting all available artists. So apart from its unsuitable location for large noise events, Eden Park would also have cannibalised Mt Smart concerts and cost ratepayers a revenue source." 

Asked if the Association had come across as a grinch determined to stop a feel-good concert, Donnelly said they could never get clear details on the charity aspects of the event - so just fell back on the basic effects of a concert, which were what these sort of things should be judged on. “While the constant media campaign and the elements which have now been acknowledged by the proponents to be marketing hype, have been difficult to set aside, we remained focused on the actual effects of concerts, and the relevant Unitary Plan requirements."

Donnelly said he and high-profile objector Helen Clark had been targeted for personal attacks, but while these were unfortunate, they didn't influence how they proceeded. 

He also said the trust board's estimate of how much it cost to apply to hold a concert "did seem very high". 

Helen Clark expressed "enormous relief" after news that the trust board wasn't going ahead with the concert plan, but scoffed at its wording that it was "forced to withdraw" due to time constraints and the prospect of substantial costs. 

She described the fight as a "David and Goliath" battle, saying residents objecting to the concert had been the subject of a large public relations campaign from a group with a lot of money to throw around. She says it conducted polling of dubious value, described by others as 'push polling', in which the telephone questioning has been steered towards a pre-determined outcome. The trust board used that poll in a news release yesterday to say 91 percent of Aucklanders and 87 percent of people living near Eden Park supported the council. 

The statement said: "The trust consulted widely with its local community, various neighbourhood associations, Council, Local Board, business associations and other stakeholders prior to submitting the application and throughout the process. Consultation with the community included making its environmental planners, traffic, acoustic and lighting specialists available to address any concerns as well as bringing locals together through stadium tours, a ‘Friday Family Fish ‘n’ Chips’ evening and other events to inspire open conversation and share the recent independent research."

But Clark said it was completely disingenuous of the board to say it didn't expect opposition. "The park is a gorilla - it's been a big machine." She says as a neighbour she had a right to voice her concerns under the Resource Management Act. 

As for the cost being put at $750,000 - "everything we have seen of this proposal is about thinking of a number and putting it out there ... the quote about saving a million babies was pulled out of the air ... all I can tell you is the Neighbours Association had nothing like that to spend. And what have they paid public relations people? The mind boggles. Some governance questions ought to be asked." 

Clark has been trolled since she spoke out, with waves of abuse surfacing on her Facebook page. But she's not the easiest person to find and no one has knocked on her door. 

"I've been around public life for a long time so I can swing with the punches. But this was designed to intimidate the opposition and I don't like that. So I will wear some of the heat."

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