Christchurch races against clock to play World Cup host

By Greg Stutchbury

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Local opposition and the ever ticking clock are conspiring against him but former New Zealand captain Lee Germon remains determined to bring international cricket back to earthquake-ravaged Christchurch in time for the 2015 World Cup.

New Zealand's second city has played host to test cricket since 1930 and one-dayers since 1973 but that proud record was brought to a shuddering halt on February 22, 2011 when the earthquake devastated the city and killed just under 200 people.

The Lancaster Park ground was wrecked but Canterbury Cricket had already identified a portion of Hagley Park as a potential future venue in line with New Zealand Cricket's policy to play tests in 'boutique' grounds.

"We were asked in 2008 where the ideal ground for test cricket was and we said Hagley Park," Germon, chief executive of Canterbury Cricket, told Reuters in a telephone interview of the large park bordering the central city.

"It has been a cricket ground for over 100 years, it's located centrally, it's a natural amphitheatre for a ground so it ticked all the boxes for a boutique cricket ground."

The plans call for a NZ$20 million $17.13 million (11.15 million pounds) redevelopment into a 20,000-capacity permanent venue to host test, limited overs and first class games.

It has not all been plain sailing, however, with a referral to New Zealand's Environment Court for a hearing in June eating into an already tight schedule.

If the plans are approved, Germon will need to give the 'go' on the development almost immediately to get the venue completed in time for Sri Lanka's tour of New Zealand in late 2014.

That would allow tests of its operations, at least once, ahead of the global tournament, co-hosted with Australia, that runs from February to March 2015.

World Cup organisers are expected to confirm the cities that will host matches by the end of April.

Germon declined to outline how many games Christchurch had bid for, but said they had asked for the opening game of the tournament, or at least of the group based in New Zealand, and as many Black Caps matches as possible.

"We have basically communicated that we need a decision by the end of August so we can hit key milestones to have a ground ready for cricket World Cup," Germon said.

"We don't know how long that decision will take from the Environment Court. They could turn it around in a week or it could be a couple of months, we just don't know.

"We are on pretty tight timelines and milestones to have a ground ready for the World Cup."

The redevelopment of the ground, which includes a pavilion with permanent seating, media facilities, lighting towers, an embankment and space for temporary seating, is projected to take about 12 months, he said.


The plans have not been universally welcomed and local opponents have formed the umbrella group "Save Hagley Park" to represent them at the Environment Court hearing.

The group's concerns are outlined in an open letter on Facebook addressed to local and central government and the authority in charge of rebuilding the city.

Traffic management, the erection of lighting towers, the construction of permanent structures in the park and the precedent it would set for future development were chief among their concerns.

The group also suggest a return to Lancaster Park be investigated, though Germon said the City Council had "categorically" ruled that out.

Germon said their application had taken into account objections from opponents and scaled back on their initial plans, but what they had now put forward was the minimum expected of a ground by the International Cricket Council (ICC).

The redevelopment would take up two percent of the land area in Hagley Park and not change the overall use of the vicinity, which was for cricket anyway, he said.

"It is, I believe, something that is vital to the future of cricket in Canterbury that we do get a venue," Germon added.

"This is the right venue."

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)