Confidential documents reveal just how much everyone changed their minds on Sydney’s $2 billion stadia saga

ANZ stadium at Homebush Getty Images
  • The NSW parliament forced the government to release a series of documents over the four-year saga to redevelop ANZ and Allianz stadiums in Sydney.
  • The government has changed its mind four times on its plans but now the Premier says they’ve ‘done their homework’ to reach a final decision.
  • Nearly $2 billion is being spent on 3 stadiums in Parramatta, Homebush and Moore Park.

Sydney’s controversial plans to rebuild two stadiums at a cost of more than $2 billion has been a mess, with government decisions on the issue changing regularly over the past three years amid growing voter anger.

Confidential correspondence between the NSW Government and major sports bodies over the stadia plan reveal just how much everyone was willing to shift their positions based on the government’s policy position of the day.

Plans to knock down and rebuild both the former Homebush Olympic (ANZ) stadium, and Sydney Football (Allianz) stadium next to the SCG at a total cost of more than $2 billion for taxpayers, provoked widespread community concern that’s damaged the reelection of Premier Gladys Berejiklian and the Coalition.

Just before Easter, Berejiklian changed her mind again, declaring that the government had “done its homework” with a business case analysis from Infrastructure NSW. The Premier abandoned plans to rebuild the 18-year-old Olympic stadium, saying the government will save taxpayers $500 million by refurbishing, it for $810 million instead. The $730 million demolition and rebuild of Allianz Stadium will proceed as planned.

The announcement was the fourth change of plan for the Coalition.

Last Friday, the NSW parliament forced the government to release confidential documents that reveal the behind-the-scenes jockeying between major sports bodies.

Embarrassingly for Sports Minister Stuart Ayres, an email chain reveals he personally scripted answers on the Sydney Football Stadium (SFS) for SCG Trust chairman Tony Shepherd.

Shepherd had planned to tell a journalist “the SFS is not decayed”, but Ayres intervened to tell him to say “the SFS is old and out of date”.

A letter from Berejiklian to Shepherd last year included a hand-written annotation from the Premier saying “Looking forward to catching up soon! Let me know if it’s taking too long and I will move things along.”

Labor’s upper house leader, Adam Searle, told Fairfax Media the correspondence demonstrated “the conspiratorial nature of the relationship”.

The NSW Opposition is pushing for more documents, which the government claims are commercially sensitive, to be released.

The documents also reveal that in 2016, when the SCG Trust was pushing for a new stadium on a nearby site, while maintaining the SFS, an unreleased media statement opposed a knockdown/rebuild, saying it “would result in an estimated $300 million in business disruption costs” and the money “could be better spent elsewhere”.

The future of the Trust is now under a cloud, with the Premier flagging a review of how government-owned grounds are managed, while Opposition leader Luke Foley as pledged to abolish the Trust, whose members include broadcaster Alan Jones. However, the government appears to be walking away from previously announced plans to put the government-controlled sites under the management of a single entity Venues NSW.

The government spent $200 million buying back ANZ stadium from its private owners.

Former premier Mike Baird first flagged plans for upgrades in 2015, he had the government setting aside $1 billion for a new 30,000 seat stadium at Parramatta, upgrading Homebush and rebuilding Moore Park.

ANZ Stadium first revealed plans for a $350 million redevelopment in 2014.

A year later, the Baird plan became $1.6 billion: $350 million for the Parramatta stadium (due for completion next year), $450 million to refurbish Allianz Stadium and $700 million to convert ANZ Stadium into a 75,000-seat rectangular stadium with a retractable roof.

By November last year, plans changed again when Berejiklian announced both Homebush and Moore Park would be knocked down and rebuilt at a cost of more than $2 billion. By then, the cost of the Olympic stadium rebuild had reached $1.33 billion.

That plan lasted just four months.

The documents released last week reveal that each football code had different views on the size of the stadium required and priorities, with the NRL and Football Federation Australia backing upgrades for Homebush as a priority, while the ARU threw its support behind replacing Allianz stadium.

The papers also revealed that the Premier’s office was bombarded with complaints from the public over the government’s plans.

Fairfax Media’s Jacob Saulwick has more on the shifting sands and allegiances of the state’s stadium plans here.

Last weekend, 10,061 fans went to see the Eels and Panthers clash at ANZ Stadium.

Allianz did not host any games.

Nearly 35,000 people went to see the Sydney Swans take on GWS on Saturday night at the SCG.