Andy Foster — Vote #1 for Council
Response to Poneke Webblog
This is Wellington’s biggest most expensive ever recreation facility. Westpac Stadium cost less in terms of public money ! Therefore we must get it right.
Ask anyone what the great strengths of Wellington are and I’m certain ‘compact’ and ‘walkable’ will be close to the top of most lists. Wellington City Council should be doing everything it can to build it’s indoor stadium in the heart of the city where it is most easily accessed by foot, cycle, public transport, and car. The proposal to build it at Cobham Park next to the airport just does not make sense.
I am absolutely sure the vast majority of Wellingtonians agree, and I’ve been blown away by the huge number of people who’ve sent emails, letters, phoned, talked to me in the street or at meetings and events. Thank you all very much. If councillors listen and change their minds it will be a triumph in my view for people power. I honestly hope there is a change in the culture of Council because I think collectively we have often, despite best intentions, struggled to do the listening as well as we should have. Perhaps that’s trying to do too much too fast.
I’d like to lay out some key history and then briefly knock over Council’s arguments against the Concourse.
In November 2007 WCC officers asked a team of Ian Maskell (Project and Development Manager), Stephenson Turner (Architects), Dunning Thornton (structural engineers) and Rider Revett Buchnal to revisit and update earlier work on a 12 court indoor sports facility to be sited above the Westpac Stadium concourse. That work confirmed the cost of building 12 courts at the Concourse to be the same as Cobham Park – $46-47 million, and importantly with no greater level of construction risk. You should also add $15 million to Cobham Park for land value.
With this key hurdle addressed Council then advised the team that it would move on to traffic and transportation study, discussion regarding carparking access/event management etc with the Westpac Stadium Trust. However there was no further contact with the team.
I became aware of the work done by the Maskell team in early June last year to advise me of the work that had been done and that it showed the Concourse could be built very competitively. I subpoenaed this evidence for the consent hearing to demonstrate a viable alternative to Cobham. I think councillors should have another look at it.
On June 19 Strategy and Policy Committee voted 7 – 7 on my amendment to review the costs and location of the proposed indoor sports facility. The amendment was only defeated on the chair’s casting vote.
On June 20 the CEO requested a peer review comparing the Concourse to Cobham. The entire review was forced to be conducted in just six days and reported back to councillors in closed session as part of an officer briefing on June 26. I must say one of the many weaknesses about this process has been how little and limited the useful information has been that has been made available to the public (and often to councillors too!) It appears the review was based on information provided entirely by Council, and the team that had worked on the Concourse was not contacted or questioned given the limited time available. Council has given far too much weight to this review given it’s understandable limitations.
The June briefing stated the cost of Cobham Park at $46 million. Land value was not included.
The briefing stated the cost of the Concourse, not at the agreed $46 million but at $46 – 66 million. In subsequent meeting Council officers have been unable to substantiate where that assessed possible $20 million ‘risk premium’ came from. The team that worked on the Concourse has showed me the QS and confirmed that the cost – apples with apples – was the same as Cobham.
The briefing also added $0 – 30 million to the Concourse option for ‘grade separation’ of Waterloo Quay. (ie building road bridges over the railway lines on the basis that extra indoor sports traffic might trigger enough congestion to require such bridges) That was always pretty dubious. It has subsequently disappeared from the recently approved Ngauranga to Airport Strategy, and transport officers have confirmed that it is not needed – probably ever (I think in large part because the number of trains is not expected to grow sufficiently and therefore traffic hold ups won’t be exacerbated).
In addition I’m advised that the Westpac Stadium commuter parking is close to its consented 500 park capacity most days, so replacing some of that parking with indoor sports users could not worsen peak congestion and therefore could not trigger any conceivable need for grade separation. In fact it might reduce peak congestion around the site to a modest degree.
In summary that leaves the cost of Concourse at $46 million, and the cost of Cobham at $62 million including land.
Councillors made their decision on 27 June on the basis of officer advice that the Concourse could cost up to $96 million ($66 + 30). Quite reasonably on that basis they went for Cobham. A lot has been made of it being a 13 -1 vote and of me not being present. I know a number of my colleagues were persuaded to drop their opposition because of threats to other projects they valued. As for me we went away for our tenth wedding anniversary and I had given my apologies on 29 February (that’s what comes of not clearing one’s sent emails!) long before knowing the issue would be on the agenda.
The Peer Review’s other influential conclusions were :
They took a simplistic approach to traffic issues. Council has in all its reviews, its consent application, and hearings evidence focussed almost entirely on traffic impacts on the Cobham-Troy intersection and Rongotai Road area. Any focus on the impacts on the wider transport network was an afterthought. I quote from the Council’s own consultant’s evidence ‘It was initially agreed with WCC that the assessment (of Cobham) should focus on local traffic impacts, and the impacts on the wider network would not be considered for the resource consent application.’ ‘This is a key problem including under the RMA, given congestion levels through the Basin – tunnel and approaches. Realising that submitters like myself had raised the wider network as a problem a limited amount of analysis was done. One salient number is the expectation that at peak times another 139 vehicles an hour would be expected to use Mt Victoria tunnel and approaches. Given the rule of thumb is that a single lane road’s capacity is about 1800 vehicles per hour this is a significant increase.
The review also concluded that Cobham is ’superior not only for buses but significantly increased numbers of users will bike and walk.’ It commented that the main city bus interchange is too far from the Concourse for comfortable walking.
These conclusions just don’t make sense.
From the Concourse trains are two to three minutes’ walk and every bus service in the city passes through the interchange (only 5 minutes steady walk), or at worst Lambton Quay (under 10 minutes walk). In contrast only 1/4 of city bus services pass close to Cobham and the majority of people would have to change services. Consequently they will use the car. Even the Council’s own consent application noted existing problems with walking and cycling access especially from Miramar. The Council’s own application thinks almost 95 % of users of a Cobham stadium would arrive by private vehicle. In this it completely fails Council’s own transport strategies, as well as contradicts the City’s District Plan.
Council has made a lot of there being more schools within 5 km of Cobham (40) than Concourse (21) – Leaving aside that schools will inevitably travel by charter bus at almost any distance, Council has conveniently ignored proximity of population as a whole, and it’s pretty hazy what the 5 kms significance is anyway when considering schools access.
The Reviewers also felt carparking at the Stadium would be difficult and put a price of $400,000 per annum on leasing 250 carparks from the Stadium, and said there would be no parking on 40 event days. This is a failure of will and lateral thinking !
Even assuming you needed as many as 250 carparks, $400,000 could be simply funded from gold coin level user parking charge, or added to operating costs (equates to $5.7 million capital cost at Council’s average borrowing cost) or offset by the revenue from users that you wouldn’t get at Cobham such as the (currently) 2000 CBD business house players weekly, or any mix of these sources.
What about event days ? According to the 2007/8 StadiumTrust Annual Report there were 31 events which were evening only (Phoenix, Rugby, Concert), 4 U 17 women’s world cup days (one offs), 1 cricket match and 4 other all day/weekend events. It should be easy enough to make parking available on a sports fixture day until say 5 pm and then clear the carpark for the evening match. Indoor sports players could still use the special additional public transport laid on for events after those hours on those days. If it’s ok to take public transport to watch a match for 80 to 90 minutes, is it impossible to occasionally do the same to play for an hour ?
So what are the pluses of the Concourse ?
· Location is perfect. It allows much better access to the whole city, by car and certainly by public transport. That is why Westpac Stadium works superbly, and adds so much to our city, unlike so many stadia.
· It is far more walkable, including from the CBD. Rather than drive from work through the traffic to Cobham, players could comfortably walk from work places for appropriate matches. 80,000 people work in the CBD.
· One of Council’s key strategic objectives is to ensure the heart of our city is vibrant and healthy. 400,000 plus indoor sports participants would certainly add to that. Being close to other facilities, cafes, shops etc, people will use them in conjunction with their trip to the indoor stadium.
· It would fit with the Council’s Transport Strategy and Urban Development Strategies.
· The CBD is the easily the fastest growing population area in the region. 12,000 people now live there.
· While Council promotes this as a city rather than regional facility there will be out of city users. The Concourse is clearly more accessible for them. There would be value to the rest of the region.
· It would reduce energy use and emissions. I am advised one of the council’s officers working with the Concourse team commented when asked, that the differential in carbon footprint in favour of the Concourse option could be $2 – $4 million per annum. This was expected to be part of a more specific assessment later. The Cobham site makes a mockery of Council’s carbon neutrality objectives.
· It could provide for 2000 business house sports people a week who currently use Sheds 1 and 6 which will inevitably be removed one day. That revenue would assist in reducing operating losses too. That’s roughly 100,000 corporate users a year.
· It would be much better placed and laid out (especially right next to Westpac Stadium with all its facilities) for the occasional very large banquet which the city currently struggles to host. I know sports codes fear any other uses after their experience of the TSB Arena, but we do need to do what we can to reduce operational costs to ratepayers. Again this should be simple enough to manage – running the two facilities in tandem to keep a decent number of courts available.
· Improved shelter of the concourse for people walking to Westpac Stadium
· There are other potential benefits too, but I won’t add further complexity here.
Where to from here ?
· I’ve taken my appeal on transport impact grounds. (congestion and failure to meet the District Plan requirements to provide well for access by public transport, walking and cycling) Despite a certain amount of other people trying to muddy the waters last week, these are absolutely a perfectly valid Resource Management grounds for appeal. Another gentleman has appealed on broadly similar grounds.
· The location is largely a political decision. My intention is to seek to put the issue with far better information in front of councillors in a Council meeting open to the public. My intention is that we are all provided with full, open, transparent information from the relevant professional people involved in developing the proposals.
Thank you again for your support. I really appreciate it, especially as it has been a tough week or so. I am very happy to provide any further information, or discuss it further with you. Please do talk to other people and encourage more emails to councillors (firstname.lastname@example.org), or participation in Council’s current LTCCP preliminary consultation.
I think most councillors would be very happy to go to a CBD site if they felt it was a goer. From the large amount of information I’ve had, I am confident it is.
18 February 2009
Andy responds on indoor sports centre issue