new auckland

Eden Park turns up the volume on concerts

One of Auckland's most controversial planning proposals is open to public submissions. Tim Murphy looks through the Eden Park Trust's 19-document application to host six rock concerts a year

Eden Park is moving its bid for six concerts at the stadium each year onto high PR mode with a spend-up to win public support before planning commissioners hear the case.

The Eden Park Trust says it must have concerts to secure the park's future, but it has twice failed to win planning support thanks to the noise and disruption concerts would bring to the centre of the Mt Eden neighbourhood. The second failed bid was as recently as four years ago when the Auckland Unitary Plan was formed. It won concessions then, but wants more: it seeks up to six concerts as-of-right, without having to win planning consents for each event.

Potential concert revenues are high, with crowds as big as All Black tests, and the trust seems to be unafraid to spend to put its case to the public. 

It has launched a PR campaign to boost submissions in favour of concerts before the April 3 cut-off and is clearly aiming to paint opposition to concerts as being from a small and vocal minority.  

One of its tactics is a video based on the famous doorway scene from the movie Love Actually. It has comedian Leigh Hart moving through big cards bearing messages including 'Let the Music Play' to a woman actor who is meant to be a local Eden Park neighbour. The cards include pictures of international music acts like Elton John who could supposedly play at the stadium if Eden Park gets its way.

Hart's cards claim 85 percent of locals support the concerts, after a trust-organised survey a year ago, but the methodology has previously been questioned, with doubts over how far afield the 'locals' came from.

The campaign is also paying for large digital outdoor advertising boards to prompt public visits to its website in support of the concert application. The billboards and video are highly unusual for a consent application for events affecting one community in a city.

Eden Park outmanoeuvred Auckland Mayor Phil Goff last year in winning a $10m grant from the council with no strings attached on top of having its $53m loans taken over - and has set the regular hosting of big concerts as the next step in its survival plan. One of its investments will be a large screen at the eastern end of the ground, which with attached sound barriers, would replace the park's consent obligation from as far back as 2011 to block noise to those residential blocks up the hill.  

While the possibility of a new national stadium at Quay Park in the CBD still lies in the background, awaiting a business case and a favourable political and funding environment, the trust is clearly trying to hammer home its advantage.

Its detailed application is made up of 19 documents including a positive noise consultant's report, a social effects paper claiming concerts would be "strongly positive" at the individual and community level, and an upbeat regional economic impact study. 

An 'effects' report from consultant Tattico says: "Overall the adverse effects of the proposal are considered to be acceptable and can be mitigated through the implementation of the Operations Management Plan - Concerts and specific conditions relating to the parameters of the concert event and associated activities."

The trust argues Eden Park's facilities are superior for concert-goers than those on offer at Mt Smart or Western Springs, that it is close to the entertainment precinct of Kingsland and public transport, and would boost visitor and event spending in the city. It can also hold more attendees than Mt Smart.

It says concerts would make more of a major public asset, and would boost entertainment opportunities in the city. However, industry observers believe the total number of concerts in Auckland would not increase - instead Eden Park would try to snare bookings currently headed to Mt Smart and Western Springs.

Mt Smart has had a bumper summer, with repeat mega-concerts late last year up to the cancelled Elton John programme. It is less affected by noise levels as it is in an industrial zone, where some permitted business activity can be noisier than rock concerts.

The Eden Park application says weeknight concerts would be limited to 50,000 people and a 10.30 pm finish - Saturdays and Sundays of long weekends would finish by 11pm and be limited to 60,000. Up to 17,000 could be on the main field depending on the stage configuration. 

An application under the Resource Management Act cannot rely on popular videos and social media likes to convince independent commissioners that effects on the local environment can be legally justified.

It must make the case that local residents - and not just those in the immediate adjacent streets - will not suffer adverse effects or if so, that Eden Park will adequately mitigate them.

Concerts, unlike major sports events, take weeks of stage construction and up to 200 movements and the unpacking of 50 containers day and night. The application predicts up to seven days of set-up and three days of packing up.

They can also fall on weeknights, such as those that had been planned by Elton John at Mt Smart before he fell ill, and would face issues with overload and access to the very train and bus commuter services that Eden Park is promoting as a positive for its case. It is not clear how the extended City Rail Loop works could affect the heightened need for western line train services for a Friday commute coupled with an estimated 40 percent of a 50,000 crowd using rail to get to Eden Park.

The park will have to justify noise levels - which for concerts would normally occur in summer when the surrounding neighbourhood homes could expect to have windows open - that would be greater than lower volume, weekend and often winter events for the biggest sports crowds.

While the trust is advertising and promoting its case for the public to submit to the council on its application, local residents are also preparing to ensure their rights are not over-run.

There are two resident groups: one, the Eden Park Residents group friendly to the trust and led by Jose Fowler and the other formed 15 years ago, the Eden Park Neighbours Association led by Mark Donnelly. 

The Residents Association website is unashamedly pro the trust's intentions: "By offering a wider range of events, Eden Park can be financially independent and of greater benefit to the local community, greater Auckland and New Zealand."

The Neighbours Association has told residents it will review the detailed application and provide advice but points out the trust wants as many as four concerts in a fortnight and provision for two concerts back to back in a day. It also says noise limits are averaged over 15 minutes not the peak noise in concerts.

Public submissions close on April 3 before a recommendation from council planners would go to planning commissioners ahead of a hearing. A decision could be made by mid-year.

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