Christchurch city councillors have met and voted to give the go-ahead to build the contentious $683m stadium.

Melanie Coker, Sara Templeton and Celeste Donovan were the only councillors who voted against pressing ahead.

Councillors faced three choices; build the covered stadium, hit the pause button and re-evaluate the project, or scrap it altogether.

Watch the council meeting here:

The project board had negotiated a fixed-price contract for the 30,000-seat multi-use arena, following a $150m budget blowout blamed on rising international construction costs.

The $683.1m price tag was the the total amount to go ahead, incorporating factors such as contingency funds, as well as the building and construction costs, council’s manager of citizens and community, Mary Richardson, said.

The government has pledged $220 million to the multi-use arena but did not intend to help the council cover the budget blowout.

For and against

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel opened the debate among councillors by urging them not to consider it a done deal, to consider their legal obligations and ongoing costs for the facility, and to regard consultation feedback as only one factor in the mix.

Dalziel said she had never been convinced by the business case and anticipated returns projected for the project, and: “That cost increases with this decision today.

“The costs have risen by up to $200m… which is a significant amount. We need to go into this decision as councillors with eyes wide open.”

She recognised the high level of public interest in the project shown by the number of submissions, but said: “This was not, and cannot legally be a referendum – it is one input into the decision we make today.”

Deputy mayor Andrew Turner said, while he hoped that finding funds for the stadium project would not cost the community valuable progress in economic and social projects, or revenue providing facilities, he believed the council needed to act decisively and “put Ōtautahi/Christchurch on the map”.

As his term on council came to an end, he believed giving the stadium the go-ahead would leave an on-going legacy.

Councillor Jimmy Chen said while he wanted the stadium to go ahead, and recognised it meant rates would rise because of it, he believes council must create more avenues for those on low incomes to pay less in rates.

Yani Johanson said he believed the project needed to go ahead now, after long delays that had proved costly.

However, he said additional funding sources should be sought so that “inevitable budget reprioritisation” would not take funds from fixing the city’s “munted infrastructure” such as roads and footpaths in the east, the stench from the organics and wastewater treatment plant, or the need for investment in social housing and social well-being.

Melanie Coker said she would vote against the project as many people could not afford a further rates increase, and opposed to the project told her they had not made submissions because they did not believe council would listen to them.

She said the touted economic benefits were not ensured and costs could increase further, at a time when national and global communities face grim projected economic challenges in the future.

Sara Templeton said the project was “a clear case of privatising the profits and socialising the cost”. She said that was hard to justify.

She believed the consultation feedback did not reflect the position of the majority of residents, and seconded the point that many who did not have faith in the council had not taken part.

If the project went ahead it could contribute to “erosion of trust in council processes”.

Celeste Donovan said while the stadium was a ‘feel-good project’, councillors were elected to make tough calls in the community’s interest.

“Leadership means looking at who benefits and who pays…. in my view council should not be gold-plating the central city at the expense of communities still waiting to get earthquake repairs.”

Sam MacDonald said the sunken costs decided him, and council should “get on with it.”

More about the money

Council chief financial officer Leah Scales said the project had previously been approved at a cost of $483m to the council and $230m to the crown. That had been budgeted for in the Long-Term Plan (2021-31).

But in August last year, council had agreed to change the design to increase the stadium’s seating to 30,000 people, costing another $50m that was not budgeted for.

If the council abandoned the project, Scales said, it would avoid a potential rate increase, “however there would be a $40m sunk cost” on work already done such as consultation and design.

What do Christchurch residents want?

More than 30,500 submissions were made to council during the consultation period, of which 87 percent were from people who live in Christchurch City.

Of the total, 77 percent of submitters supported investing up to an additional $150m to enable the project to go ahead as planned, 8 percent wanted the project to be paused and re-evaluated, and 15 percent wanted the project to be stopped altogether.

The consultation team said the most prevailing opinions represented in the submissions were; that the project was necessary and could cost more with further delays; and that the city deserved the stadium after weathering the Canterbury earthquakes.

Support tended to decrease with age, with submitters over 65 years old more likely to say the project should be paused or not go ahead.

The wards most supportive of the additional $150m investment were Burwood, Fendalton, Harewood, Innes and Papanui. While there was least support among submitters from Cashmere, Heathcote, Linwood and Spreydon, with Banks Peninsula submitters especially set against the project.

Of the organisations represented in the submissions, 86 percent supported additional investment up to $150m, especially businesses and commercial interests. However political groups tended to opt for the pause or stop options.

A place for belonging that will bring economic benefits – speakers

The meeting was the final chance for pitches to the council, and a string of presentations were heard throughout the morning.

Hospitality New Zealand chairperson for Canterbury Peter Morrison began his presentation calling for the stadium to go ahead by singing his appeal to the tune of John Lennon’s Imagine.

Pasifika youth leader Josiah Tualamali’i told the councillors that if completed the stadium would be an important resource for the Pasifika community, and could be used for rugby league events, markets and Polyfest events, and contribute to “a sense of belongingness” by bringing people together for events.

However, resident William Stuart said sport was on the decline as the country’s main leisure activity and funding of sport should not be on this scale.

Central City Business Association chairperson Annabel Turley told the council the city would be left behind if the stadium isn’t built to the same scope as approved in August last year.

The approved design would provide a resource for generations of Cantabrians, but without it “the city and region will be left behind, concerts and events will just go elsewhere.

“It’s time to be decisive and aspirational … without further delay,” she said.

Te Kaha project team: ‘little risk, big benefits’

If the fully fledged project went ahead it was expected to feed back $486m into the Ōtautahi community throughout the 25 year expected lifespan of the stadium, Te Kaha project board member Caroline Harvey-Teare said. That included about $3.5m that would be spent on food costs a year, and spending generated in the region of about $3.6m for each sporting event and $10m per large concert.

About 600 to 800 casual day staff would need to be employed for each event, and there was space for retail tenants in the building who would draw people to the stadium through the week, independent of events.

Without the new stadium, Harvey-Teare said that existing facilities in Christchurch could not cater for events with more than 20,000 people, so it would be difficult to secure things like All Black matches, super rugby and large concerts.

The existing Orange Theory Stadium was a temporary venue, and Hagley Park needed a lot of temporary infrastructure to stage large events, she said.

Te Kaha chairman Barry Bragg said the board believed the build and construction contract that had been negotiated with BESIX Watpac was “very favourable”.

All cost escalations and risks associated with design and construction would lie with the contractor, which left very few remaining risks he said.

Councillor Sam MacDonald asked what risks would still lie with the council.

Bragg said they included any problems that could arise from the ground conditions – such as possible archaeological finds at the site, problems that could result from the design specifications, and the possibility of any litigation from the contractors.

A fully detailed design was expected by the end of this year, he said.

Ground work has already begun at the site, and if the project got the go-ahead foundations would be built next, followed by the erection of the bowl and then roof, with the project expected to be finished by the end of April 2026.

A construction industry expert and advisor to Te Kaha told the council: “In my view it’s an extremely good contract.”

Councillor Yani Johanson said some submitters had queried whether locking in a fixed price could mean missing out on possible cost reductions if the labour or materials markets improved.

The expert said, while it was doubtful the labour market would get cheaper, it was possible some material costs such as steel and Gib board could reduce in the short-to-medium term, but they could go up. So not locking in the contract to guarantee the fixed price would be a gamble, and it was not a gamble he would take.