Update: ACT and the Dunedin stadium

Note: this post originally appeared on ‘Douglas to Dancing’, a blog I maintained from 2007-9 on the ACT New Zealand political party. The blog was an extension of the thesis I wrote about the Act Party in 2007, From Douglas to Dancing: explaining the lack of success of ACT New Zealand and evaluating its future prospects (PDF).

An update on opposition to the proposed new waterfront stadium in Dunedin, focusing on the connections with ACT.

The prospects for action by Local Government Minister and ACT leader Rodney Hide seem to be diminishing. Earlier this week, Hide said he would be pleased to come to Dunedin at the invitation of Stop the Stadium, but also warned that it would take gross recklessness by local councils, which have thus far approved the proposal, for the project to be reviewed, according to the Otago Daily Times. On Saturday, the ODT reported a Hide spokesman as saying that a visit would not be “quick”, given that the minister has a busy schedule.

To me, this sounds as if Hide is keen to stay out of Dunedin’s deliberations – some would say washing his hands of it. All government ministers have full diaries. That is a given. But if something high-priority comes up, they can alter, postpone or cancel less-pressing appointments. By signalling his unwillingness to do so, Hide may be vetoing any prospect of a review for the stadium project.

The deadline in this case is April 20, when DCC councillors meet to consider a building contract from Hawkins Construction. Of course, Hide could delay or halt the stadium even after this, but this would require the contract to be broken, with associated penalties. If Hide’s decision whether to review the project or not does not come speedily, it will soon be too late.

On the ground, local ACT-linked people have been busy. Last week I wrote about former ACT MP and now Otago Regional Councillor Gerry Eckhoff’s fury at the proposal and decision-making processes. Following the public meeting, enduring local ACT organiser and lawyer Hilary Calvert told the Fairfax-owned Dunedin community paper D-Scene (1 April 2009, p. 5, not online) that she believed legal advice to the Dunedin City Council from the Anderson Lloyd law firm was suspect.

According to the DCC, no further consultation in the form of submissions to the 2009 Annual Plan is required, because no material change has taken place to the project since last year. (Since 2008, the stadium project has failed to gain the required private-sector funding by a long way and the costs have ballooned by $10m to $198m. An opinion poll run by stadium opponents in the spring found almost 80% were against the project).

Calvert believes this advice was given only on the basis of an opinion from DCC chief executive Jim Harland that the project had not changed, rather than on an actual scrutiny by Anderson Lloyd. “No one has yet seen the construction contract to know what significant changes may or may not have been made. I want councillors to know they’re likely to be sued. They’re responsible for getting proper legal advice”, Calvert told the paper.

The opinions of local ACT supporters – or anyone else for that matter – will be unlikely to stop the signing of the building contract for the stadium, which is likely to happen on or shortly after April 20, the date of a DCC council meeting. The local authorities propelling the stadium project, including the DCC and ORC, have shown little regard for public sentiment and indeed outrage against the proposal. Only intervention by Hide before or on that date would be able to delay the project.

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