The news of the week is a major blowout in the expected cost of Christchurch’s new stadium. The project was originally supposed to come in at around $470 million, of which the government is to contribute $220 million, with $250 million to come from ratepayers via the Council. But now, it is suggested that this could end up being more expensive by $150 million, plus another increase of $50 million previously announced to maintain the seating capacity at 30,000 – that is, total cost now around $670 million. This has led to the suggestion that other councils around the Canterbury Region, particularly Selwyn and Waimakariri Districts, should be approached for contributions to help recoup some of the increase.
The problem is that CCC is unashamedly parochial and already does everything in its power to deny economic benefits and development opportunities to other regions. The airport company’s proposed development at Tarras is a naked attempt to put Queenstown and the rest of the lower South Island at a disadvantage to Christchurch by controlling the flow of international tourists. Closer to home, Christchurch blatantly advances its interests over those of Selwyn and Waimakariri through dominance of the Greater Christchurch regional planning framework, which implicitly puts the Christchurch CBD – the same area where the stadium is to be built – at greater economic significance than any other commercial centre in the whole of Canterbury, and likewise the urban development of the city is given greater pre-eminence than in other territories.
Given that CCC has long sought to make the CBD more dominant than commercial centres in Waimakariri and Selwyn, it is the height of hypocrisy for politicians and commentators to now advocate for these councils to contribute to the stadium project. The key aim for CCC in the location of the stadium is primarily to benefit existing landowners and businesses in the CBD. The main benefit to other areas is largely of a social nature: their residents will get to be able to attend events which are held at the stadium, assuming they can afford to buy tickets. In so doing, their hard earned dollars will be flowing into the city’s coffers, without so much as the slightest thought of a payback of any sort to their councils. Mostly, these commentators and councillors’ are desperate to justify what is increasingly becoming a white elephant, a financial albatross for Christchurch ratepayers. Economists have noted on many occasions that the financial benefits of investing in a stadium do not actually exist. The stadium will produce a net loss on the investment that ratepayers make into it. The benefits are primarily social, not economic.
The bigger questions we should be asking of our Councillors are twofold:
- Why there is so much obeisance to an endless Christchurch CBD gravy train, whereby an endless list of projects and subsidies are produced to shore up expensive CBD landowners’ property prices.
- Why Christchurch is increasingly attempting to position itself as the capital of the South Island – the Tarras airport move is a prime example of this.
Whereas in the CBD issue we see mostly Christchurch dominating the Greater Christchurch region, the Christchurch stadium and the Tarras airport proposal both will have major economic impacts on the whole South Island, especially Dunedin and Queenstown.
In the case of the stadium, the real question has been over the very flimsy justification for moving it from Lancaster Park, which was a big enough area to have a much greater seating capacity. The obvious reason being to deliver financial benefit to the CBD.