How the Fast Track Bill could boost concerts at Eden Park

Concert-goers at a sold-out Six60 show at Eden Park in 2021.
Concert-goers at a sold-out Six60 show at Eden Park in 2021. Photo credit: Supplied/Six60 to RNZ

Farah Hancock for RNZ

Eden Park's operators say a fast-tracked consent process could allow them to host more events at the Auckland stadium.

The stadium, located in an otherwise suburban neighbourhood, is currently allowed to host six concerts a year. It also hosts up to 25 evening rugby and cricket games.

With some upgrades, such as a retractable roof, it was shortlisted by Auckland Council as a contender for the city's main stadium, along with the proposed waterfront Te Tōangaroa/Quay Park stadium.

The Fast Track Approvals Bill is described as a "one stop shop" to gain quick approval for nationally or regionally important infrastructure or developments. It would sit above 10 different Acts and regulations, including the Resource Management Act.

Eden Park Trust chief executive officer Nick Sautner told the Environment Committee hearing submissions on the Bill that the vision for Eden Park is to redevelop the north and west end of the stadium and add a retractable roof.

But he also wanted to fast-track consent for events.

"We have been operating with significant restrictions; those restrictions are the equivalent of a hotel being able to operate one night a week," Sautner told the committee.

"The fast track process for us will enable us to continue our liaison with the community, but streamline that process and expedite the changes needed to enable us to be nimble and agile."

The number of concerts held at the stadium has proved contentious in the past, with some locals opposed to noise, anti-social behaviour and litter associated with them.

Previously, consent had to be sought for every concert, but in 2020 the park gained ongoing consent to hold six concerts a year.

Others in the community have been supportive of more events.

In February, a trust survey of 1500 local residents showed 90 percent supported the park hosting 12 shows a year from six artists. 93 percent of the respondents said they wanted the park to host Taylor Swift.

Sautner told RNZ the trust had been "approached" to explore many avenues to increase the number of events at the venue, including private members' bills, local member's bills, district plan changes and resource consent applications.

The trust was listed as a recipient of a letter sent from Minister responsible for RMA Reform Chris Bishop's office sharing details of how to apply for fast-track consent.

"Promoters plan up to 18 months in advance and this was recently shown with Coldplay's tour announcement over 12 months before their three record-breaking concerts at Eden Park," Sautner said.

"In the case of religious festivals, venue bookings are often secured 5 years in advance. Currently the consenting process for major events is costly, time-consuming and onerous."

The Fast Track Bill's purpose is to speed up nationally or regionally important infrastructure and development projects. Sautner said the park operates "for the benefit of the public of the region".

Eden Park Neighbours' Association chair Colin Lucas said the news that the trust hoped to get events consent fast tracked came as a surprise to him.

"My brief reading of the Bill is that it is for bricks and mortar-type development."

Asked whether events might be counted as infrastructure, he said that interpretation was "ambitious".

As well as noise issues, Lucas said he had dealt with antisocial behaviour after concerts.

"I've had the odd threat. I've had people using my hedge to relieve themselves. They drop rubbish everywhere. The first Six60 concert we cleaned up about eight cleansacks of solid waste - bottles, cans, rubbish."

He worried the trust was hoping to push start times for some evening sports later to align with other time zones.

Lucas said it came down to what was reasonable.

"We have to live with Eden Park, but we've got to preserve the amenities. There are trade-offs, and what Eden Park are trying to do is monster people into accepting unacceptable trade-offs."

Labour's environment spokesperson Rachel Brooking - who sits on the Environment Committee hearing submissions - said assuming events fall under the auspices of the Bill could be considered an "overreach".

"All of the National MPs who talk about it, talk about, 'Oh, we're going to build renewable energy, and we're going to build more roads.' Shane Jones obviously talks about more mining, which is not infrastructure, but certainly would be, I think, in most people's minds, a development project. But enabling more events as a specific issue does seem to be different from what the legislation is trying to promote."

Brooking, who previously worked as a resource management and local government lawyer for 20 years, said the purpose of the Bill was unclear and there was no definition of what constituted a development project.

"It seems a number of submissions have been made thinking that everything is included in that, including in this case."

Sautner said Eden Park was set up to host large crowds and could host more types of events.

"We currently host the Eid Festival and would welcome more religious and community festivals - imagine Carols in the Park, noodle markets, the Auckland Lantern Festival, the Auckland Pride Festival and even Movies in the Park. These could be enabled through the government's Fast Track Approvals Bill."