SocietyMarch 12, 2020

‘Why let one little suburb have so much control?’ The Eden Park battle heats up


Eden Park has been home to Kiwi sports fans for 120 years, but now it’s launched a new effort: to be a leading NZ venue for big music events. 

The battle between the managers of Eden Park and residents of the leafy streets surrounding the stadium is about to resume, with a resource consent application lodged seeking clearance to become a part-time music venue. The application by the Eden Park Trust requests permission to host six music events over a 12-month period.

It represents a new approach by the venue, which says that applying for resource consents on a show-by-show basis has proven a nightmare for both the stadium and promoters.

Does it stand a chance? Not if the Eden Park Neighbourhood Association (EPNA), a group of residents that opposes the expansion into concerts, has its way. “This is just a re-run of past failed attempts which have been declined by two independent panels, most recently only three years ago by the Unitary Plan hearing panel,” said its president, Mark Donnelly. “Nothing has changed since then.”

See also: Toby Morris – Turn it up, Eden: the Yimby case for concerts at Eden Park

The Trust, however, argues that, among other benefits, the economic boon is a big deal. It has included research by Insight Economics in its application that calculates half a dozen annual concerts will generate $24.8 million each year in regional GDP, and create 395 full time jobs.

It has also done research into mitigating noise and environmental impacts of six concerts. The stadium will invest in an acoustic barrier to protect residents from the full brunt of noise, pledges the Trust, and in a massive superscreen for use at both sporting games and concerts. Eden Park CEO Nick Sautner has said further measures will include prohibiting heavy vehicles from using surrounding residential streets and a requirement for the lights to be turned off swiftly at the end of an event.

Donnelly is having none of it. “Eden Park has never been suitable as a concert venue, and no one here moved in near a major concert venue. Eden Park are wanting the same number of concerts and noise limits that apply to Mt Smart, while being embedded in a residential suburb, and impacting major arterial and public transport routes.”

Longtime resident, radio personality and sausage advocate Leigh Hart has a different perspective. “We were pretty damn aware that Eden Park was there when we moved in. It was there in 1900. There’s not one resident that wasn’t aware it was there when they moved in,” he said.

Hart stresses there’s no current partnership between his upcoming streaming platform Moonflix and the Eden Park Trust. “I’m not an advocate for Eden Park as such, I’m just passionate about getting live music back,” he said. He sees the concerts at Eden Park as both natural and inevitable. “Wembley started off as a sports stadium,” he said. “In 1966 Shea Stadium had The Beatles for the first time. It’s a natural evolution.”

Eden Park, dubbed “New Zealand’s national stadium” has a capacity of more than 50,000. It has hosted several non-sporting events in recent years including the NZ Home and Lifestyle Show, An Eden Park Christmas, and last year’s Kotahitanga event in remembrance of the Christchurch mosque attacks. It will host an anniversary remembrance event this Sunday. 

The stadium currently has an allowance for 25 night-time events, and no musical event may take place at night. 

Sautner says the stadium has had to snub several high profile musicians in the past. “Over the last 18 months Eden Park has considered hosting a number of artists including Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Phil Collins, and  Eminem as well as cultural events such as the Edinburgh Tattoo and Arena di Verona Festival (Verona opera).”

The resource consents for these events were unable to progress due to the current framework under which the stadium operates, and which the submitted resource consent seeks to change. “Eden Park has been asked to host several benefit concerts to raise money and support causes such as the families involved in the Christchurch mosque attacks and the Australian bushfires,” said Sautner. “However, we were unable to accept these events.”

Tony Wright is on the commitee of the Eden Park Residents’ Association (EPRA), EPNA’s rival in representing the Eden Park locals. Wright has read the Trust’s application in detail and supports it. “They’re already handling equivalent sized crowds for rugby,” he said. “When they’ve had these big events in the past, I sometimes didn’t know they’d happened.” Wright believes opposition to the consent is disproportionate; the EPRA represents 200 properties in the area, and more than 300 residents. During the last survey, 90% of those members supported the consent.

“People want more cultural experiences outside of rugby and cricket,” he said. “We need to get over this NIMBYism and get on with it.”

Hart also feels that it’s a minority of residents who object to the proposal. “Why would Auckland let Eden Park, one little suburb, have so much control over not just Auckland, but the whole country,” he said. “The whole country travels to see certain artists. They’re denying Kiwis the opportunity to see artists they love. You’re talking about half a dozen concerts in a year. It’s not a big deal.”

Donnelly and the Eden Park Neighbourhood Association reject that, saying six annual concerts would hardly impact Aucklanders’ cultural experiences. To host them might even imperil the future of Mt Smart, he argued.

“In the Auckland-wide context people can also see that Auckland isn’t missing out on concerts, and this proposal would just take concerts away from Mt Smart, at a cost to ratepayers, and putting the home of the Warriors at risk.”

Submissions on Eden Park’s application are open until April 3.

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