18 Apr 2019

New Plymouth stadium upgrade raises concerns

6:18 pm on 18 April 2019

Questions are being raised about the $55 million bill to repair the earthquake prone Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth.

Taranaki Synthetic Turf Trust member Hugh Barnes says the region is chronically short of hockey fields and teams from New Plymouth have to travel to Stratford for training.

Taranaki Synthetic Turf Trust member Hugh Barnes says the region is chronically short of hockey fields and teams from New Plymouth have to travel to Stratford for training. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Community sports organisations are fuming after figures were revealed showing the true cost of the stadium repair is just $36m - while the remaining $19m is for so-called "enhancements" that will primarily benefit elite rugby.

The covered stands at Yarrow, the home of Taranaki rugby, have been off-limits since June last year after being declared an earthquake risk.

The Taranaki Regional Council, which owns Yarrow via the Taranaki Stadium Trust, is consulting on eight options for the arena ranging from demolishing it and sowing grass banks for $6m to building a state of the art covered facility for $217m.

Its preferred option is a $55m dollar repair with enhancements, but those upgrades are not priced in its consultation document.

Hockey enthusiast and Taranaki Synthetic Turf Trust member Hugh Barnes said he was in favour of repairing the stadium, but that the consultation process - which ends 23 April - had not been transparent.

"We've had to really squeeze the lemon to get the information that I think, as ratepayers, we needed to be able to make a proper decision about which option we were going to support.

"And so, we're asking the question why wasn't the $36m repair put up as an option for us, as ratepayers, to make a decision about."

Mr Barnes said many of the upgrades listed in the consultation document had already been budgeted for.

"When you look at the Asset Management Plan for the stadium quite a few of the enhancements are already in there and have been budgeted for out of the current rate take, so as a ratepayer I'm questioning why is that the case and why are those enhancements still actually in there and to come under the proposed new rate take?"

Mr Barnes said for example replacing the floodlights, which had been revealed would cost $2.4m, appeared to be a case of double-dipping.

He also questioned why a new $2.5m standalone gym and admin block for rugby was included in the stadium repair bill.

Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth.

Photo: RNZ/Robin Martin

Mr Barnes said meanwhile, hockey, football, netball and basketball were all screaming out for new facilities which they each had to make a business case for.

Sport Taranaki chairman and New Plymouth District councillor Gordon Brown urged the regional council to pause and undertake some meaningful consultation.

"I know rugby has been active in getting support from the rugby clubs so I'm sure they'll show some overwhelming support for that option, but they also have to be very careful and weighted so that other sports are not unfairly penalised by all the eggs going in the professional sport basket, which is what is in danger of happening."

Mr Brown said Yarrow Stadium had been sold to the public as a multi-sports facility but it had never lived up to its billing.

"Let's call it what it is. It's a rugby stadium. Every three years you might get a game with the Warriors or the Phoenix or whatever but that doesn't change the norm."

He said the $19m worth of enhancements could be better spent elsewhere.

"We need to have a thriving professional rugby team. That's part of Taranaki, that's part of who we are. But it shouldn't be at the cost of the community and all the other sports and leisure activities who are crying out for increased facilities.

Sport Taranaki chairman Gordon Brown

Sport Taranaki chairman Gordon Brown Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

"You take $20m out of the pot and what's their chance of getting what they want or anything near that."

Mr Brown said funding models for health and well-being were changing and sport would not be immune from that.

"It's activity, it's leisure and it has to be accessible to the community and that means local government spending some money."

Regional council director corporate services Mike Nield said it had always been clear that the $55m option referred to repairs and a range of upgrades.

Mr Nield however conceded the council could have spelt out the cost of the upgrades more clearly.

He said a $36m repair option was not considered because it wouldn't allow the stadium to host major national and international events.

"In reality there is no viable option between the $6m and $55m dollar option that cost-effectively returns the stadium to operational use."

"High priority" upgrades such as putting lights on practice fields or covering grass banks with a hard finish were deemed essential for the seismic repair of the stadium "based on the priority assessments of the major users of the stadium", Mr Nield said.

He said there had been no double-dipping or double planning of any expenditure.