Risk factors weigh heavily on Yarrow Stadium upgrade


New Zealand Yarrow Stadium Image: SIMON O'CONNOR/STUFF

A detailed examination as regards the $50 million restoration and upgrade of the earthquake-prone Yarrow Stadium at New Plymouth in New Zealand has disclosed that it carries a high degree of risk.

The 25,000-capacity facility is said to be the third best rugby stadium on this planet. The primary tenant of this stadium is the Taranaki representative team in the country’s principal rugby union competition, the Mitre10 Cup.

According to RNZ, the Risk Register – which venue owner the Taranaki Regional Council discussed earlier this month in a closed-door meeting – flag 12 different risk factors, nine of which it has termed as inherently ‘high risk’.

Before mitigating actions are considered, the Risk Register is a sea of red, indicating “high risk”.

The shade turns to amber once controls are factored in and the “residual risk” falls to “medium” for all 12 categories.

Taranaki Sports Collective spokesperson and a vocal critic of the stadium upgrade, Hugh Barnes, said it was cold comfort for him.

“It’s telling me that they are actually saying there’s huge risk related to the structural repairs for the stadium,” Barnes stated.

“And going forward from that is that they actually need to mitigate all of those risks to reduce the cost. It was clear from the register that until the tender was put, the regional council had no idea what the project would cost,” he added.

He further stated that the risk register should have been made public – “From a project perspective, to me it’s the project team’s risk schedule and so it’s probably debatable, but since it’s such a public project, possibly should be.”

Yarrow Stadium is owned by the Taranaki Regional Council, which funds the facility’s maintenance and long-term development. It is operated by the New Plymouth District Council, which meets day-to-day staffing and operational costs.

Identified high-risk factors include the project going over budget, the failure of earthquake-strengthening solutions, and the venue’s cornerstone tenant, the Taranaki Rugby Union, going bankrupt.

The Taranaki Rugby Football Union is a governing body of rugby union in the New Zealand province of Taranaki.

RNZ also reported that the redecoration plan has also met with stiff opposition in the form of a high-profile local campaign. The aforementioned risk factors have further triggered debate on the continuation of the project, with some looking to the upgrading of the New Plymouth Raceway into a multisports hub as an alternative.

Weighing in

Commenting on behalf of the New Plymouth District Council, which manages the stadium and had to sign off the project, New Plymouth District Mayor Neil Holdom said the only new risk the register puts the spotlight on is Taranaki Rugby Union’s financial dire straits.

ausleisure.com.au reported that in the light of New Zealand Rugby’s recently announced Review of Rugby, Mayor Holdom questioned, “What is the long-term prospect for provincial rugby in New Zealand and what are the parent company guarantees or things that New Zealand Rugby might put in place to give the people of Taranaki a comfort that the financial backing New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) sits behind Taranaki Rugby?”

Holdom informed that the New Plymouth Council published its risk register publicly and updated it on a regular basis, but he fully agreed with the Regional Council wanting to keep the commercially sensitive elements of the risk register out of the public domain.

Holdom said that vulnerability and New Zealand Rugby’s recently announced Review of Rugby needed closer consideration.

But fellow New Plymouth councillor Murray Chong – who voted not to give the project the green light – beg to differ – “The people that write these things know what they are talking about and they’re concerned. You know they’re telling us there’s risk there.”

“The poor old ratepayer is paying thousands for this over a 20-year period and they need to be aware that just because we’ve said yes to something if there’s warning bells there we need to watch out for it,” Murray observed.

Regional Council Chairman David MacLeod said, “The council is pleased with progress on the Yarrow’s project so far and there had been no surprises so far. It was standard with a project of this size to create a risk register and good practice to flag as many risks as possible at the start.”

He did not comment on whether the council believed the project could still be delivered for $50m and did not say anything as regards the risk register should have been discussed in public.

David said the council had to be mindful of commercial sensitivities and the register allowed councillors to closely monitor progress and to ensure that all appropriate measures have been put in place.

Built-in high-risk factors

  • Repair and restoration project cannot deliver stadium back to operational capacity;
  • Repair and reinstatement project cannot be delivered within NZ$50 million total budget;
  • Repair and reinstatement is hanging fire because of stakeholder involvement;
  • Major tenant for the stadium and gym/community facility shut up shop or cannot afford the lease;
  • No availability of people or equipment to complete DSM repair of the West Stand;
  • Dampers do not secure the East Stand under earthquake conditions;
  • During reinstatement, water seepage under West Stand leads to increased works and costs;
  • Contractor availability; and
  • Infrastructure – The project assumes electrical, communications and three water capacities are available, funds fall short of any extra requirement.


Built-in medium-risk factors

  • Planning approval process delays the project due to which time frames are not met;
  • Funding – A huge risk of non-availability of debt funding runs high; and
  • Yarrow Stadium is viewed as a ‘white elephant’ by the community because it is neither flexible nor a multi-use facility.


Carr view

Sport Taranaki Chief Executive Michael Carr came out in support of a report recommending multisports hub should be developed at New Plymouth Raceway- “The issues with the Yarrow project were well known. The stadium is a bit of a sea of red anyway so, you know, what I think it does show is an accurate picture of where they see it, but the proof is in the pudding of any building project.”

“They are particularly confident they can do it so again and it’s not my opinion that counts, but you know there’s obviously some challenges ahead. The stadium and multisport proposal were not necessarily mutually exclusive. My job challenge is to influence the influencers to make sure that we can co-exist and that we can connect,” Carr asserted.

“No matter what, there is a facility here whether the stadium is redone or not, there’s a block of land that can be unitized and we want to make sure we’ve got participants rather than spectators so that’s the big driver here,” he stated.

Carr said the stadium and multisport proposal were not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Meanwhile, an indoor sports arena across the South Taranaki Bight at Levin in New Zealand, which was closed to sporting groups amid earthquake fears, could reopen again as early as next month.

ausleisure.com.au also reported that two years back, closure was imminent for the Levin Gymnastic Stadium, used by hundreds of children and athletes every week, after an engineering report into its earthquake readiness revealed it had just 23 percent compliance.

However, the Horowhenua Events Centre Trust succeeded in raising $250,000 to bring the building up to the requisite standard, ensuring that the Levin Gymnastics Club, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and Taekwon Do clubs along with pre-school children from day-care centers are able to continue using the facility.

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