Sydney's stadium plans are set to be overhauled with six NRL clubs close to agreeing to ask the Baird government to scrap a new stadium at Moore Park and upgrade the Sydney Olympic Park stadium instead.
In the past fortnight Premier Mike Baird asked the NRL for its opinion on the government's current plans to direct about $800 million of $1 billion in funding to replacing the inner-city Allianz stadium and $200 million to ANZ stadium at Olympic Park.
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Lake to go in plans for new stadium
The Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust wants to build a new stadium on top of Kippax Lake, next to the Sydney Cricket Ground.
If the NRL and six Sydney-based clubs would like those funding levels switched to turn ANZ Stadium into a premium rectangular venue, the government is likely to agree.
That would mean ditching plans to build a new stadium at Moore Park, frustrating the powerful Sydney Cricket & Sports Ground Trust which would have to be content with refurbishing the 45,000 seat Allianz stadium.
The Sydney Roosters, Canterbury Bulldogs, South Sydney Rabbitohs, Wests Tigers, St George Illawarra Dragons and Parramatta Eels were approached a fortnight ago and have been discussing the best way to use the government funding.
The matter has been deemed urgent, with the state government hopeful of an answer by the end of the month.
If the clubs request the funding switch, it could represent a remarkable turn-around in policy after Mr Baird committed to building the new stadium at Moore Park only in September.
But the departure of former NRL chief executive Dave Smith, who was a proponent of the SCG Trust's stadium plans, has created the opportunity for the re-think.
When Mr Baird and Sports Minister Stuart Ayres announced the funding split, it was as part of an overall $1.6 billion stadium funding package. The first stadium to be built would be a replacement for Pirtek Stadium in Parramatta, but ANZ and Allianz would then share about $1 billion.
However the decision to direct the bulk of that money to a 55,000 seat replacement for Allianz was criticised last year on the grounds that that stadium rarely sold out, and that the majority of rugby league fans lived closer to Olympic Park.
Souths chief executive John Lee, a former director-general of NSW Transport, said on Wednesday that planning policy for major sporting infrastructure was predominantly focused on access – "pedestrian, car and public transport access to the precinct."
"Olympic Park is superior in two of the three criteria," Mr Lee told Fairfax Media.
"We all tried Allianz years ago and it's a great boutique little stadium but it's not the premium rectangle," said Mr Lee, adding that Olympic Park was closer to the geographic centre of Sydney, and had much better public transport and parking.
"We are all in furious agreement in the clubs that Homebush was designed for a sports carnival and it needs to be redesigned for the best rectangular events sports in the country: eg. a Bledisloe, Australia qualifying for the World Cup, State of Origin," he said.
The potential about-turn comes after the Sports Minister Stuart Ayres inflamed tensions in the inner city by appearing to support a push by the SCG Trust to build a new stadium on Kippax Lake, on land managed by the neighbouring Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust.
"If you move the stadium, for instance, the space where the existing stadium is can be redeveloped as open recreational green space, it can be redeveloped as playing fields," Mr Ayres told ABC702 on Wednesday morning.
But building a stadium on Centennial Park land would contradict a cabinet decision last year that any new stadium at Moore Park would need to be on SCG land.
The comments triggered an immediate outcry. The chairman of the Centennial Park Trust, Tony Ryan, said: "We were disappointed to learn of the comments of the minister which appear to contradict the government's stated position regarding the Allianz Stadium redevelopment."
But Mr Ayres told Fairfax Media that he was not supporting the idea of a stadium on Centennial Park land.
"The government has a clear stated intention to build a new stadium and it intends to build that stadium on land that is administered by the SCG Trust," Mr Ayres said.
It may yet emerge, however, that no new stadium is built at Moore Park. It is understood that the Roosters support the idea of a refurbished Allianz, rather than a new stadium that would be rarely filled.
The NRL met with the six clubs last week, presenting detailed facts and figures about patronage at different venues. It is understood the NRL is keen for ANZ Stadium to receive the bulk of the funding – a proposition the clubs are set to approve at another meeting in a fortnight.