Christchurch City Council is coming under increasing pressure to reverse its decision to scale back plans for the proposed Canterbury Multi-Use Arena (CMUA), with a group of councillors arguing against the move and the number of signatures growing for a petition opposing the new vision for the project.

Christchurch City Council last week approved a new design direction for the CMUA, with the venue to have a seating capacity of 25,000 in an effort to minimise cost increases for the project. Initial design concepts (pictured) for the stadium had proposed that the venue feature 25,000 seats with space for 5,000 temporary seats, giving it an overall potential capacity of 30,000.

The venue will now have a smaller footprint than the initial concept, with seating for 25,000 and the ability to accommodate 36,000 for concerts, but no option for temporary seating.

More than 20,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Council to overturn the decision, while Councillors Sam MacDonald and James Gough have put forward an amendment to retain the original 30,000-seat goal and target additional funding from neighbouring councils.

MacDonald and Gough, of the Independent Citizens group, have seen their amendment backed by fellow councillors Phil Mauger, Aaron Keown and Catherine Chu. According to Stuff.co.nz, MacDonald said the Labour-aligned People’s Choice group of councillors had demonstrated they could “block vote when it suits them”.

Seven councillors are People’s Choice members, including Deputy Mayor Andrew Turner. MacDonald has called on Turner to use his voting influence “for good this time” and publicly back a 30,000-seat CMUA.

He added: “The moment Andrew signals his Labour councillors’ support, there would be enough councillor support around the table to fix this short-sighted decision.”

However, in response, Turner said he would not be prepared to increase rates by almost 1% for the next 30 years in order to add 5,000 seats that would “rarely be used”. He added: “Unlike the ‘frugal’ five – the very same people who have called for a zero per cent rates increase – I’m not willing to subject the people of Christchurch to a budget blowout.”

Meanwhile, Barry Bragg has been appointed as interim chair of the CMUA Project Delivery board. This comes after the resignation of the board’s chair, along with a director and adviser, in recent months.

Bragg said: “The board is committed to designing and building a multi-use arena that provides the expected benefits and experiences for the community, within the available funding.”

The new design direction approved by the Council last week centres on a U-shaped concourse and space for a ‘stage pocket’ at its northern end. The council had initially been looking at building a stadium with a full level one concourse and seating for 30,000, but this came in at NZ$88m (£44.1m/€51.8m/$61.7m) over budget once a value management assessment had been carried out.

The Council cited scope changes from the initial investment case and the rapidly escalating price of steel and shipping costs worldwide since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The budget for the stadium is NZ$473m, with the council to provide NZ$253m and the Crown to put in NZ$220m.

Image: Christchurch City Council