New Zealand is closer to getting what the government says will be a world class convention centre in Auckland after legislation to give effect to an agreement to build the $NZ402 million project passed its first reading in Parliament.

Last week, the New Zealand International Convention Centre Bill passed its first reading.

The bill gives effect to an agreement the government struck last month with SKYCITY Entertainment Group under which the latter will design, build and operate the centre.

Once complete, the new facility will have capacity to host up to 3,500 delegates and to host multiple concurrent events.

The facility will include at least 8,600 square metres of exhibition space, a dedicated plenary facility to host up to 3,500 delegates and 3,500 square metres of dedicated meeting/breakout spaces.

Construction is expected to commence during the second half of next year and will take approximately three years, during which time SKYCITY says around 1,000 building jobs will be created.

The passing of the bill to enact the agreement comes as Auckland beefs up efforts to enhance its reputation as an international city.

Starting in 2015/16, the city plans to start building two 3.4-kilometre rail tunnels under a $2.86 billion City Rail Link project which when complete is expected to double rail capacity in the city centre.

The passing of the bill was no certainty, as opponents such as the Greens Party argued it would generate more gambling related problems have a harmful effect on families and children.

Despite the opposition from some quarters, the government contends the new Centre will be a significant asset for New Zealand. The bill passed by a 60 to 58 vote.

Apart from creating employment opportunities during construction, the new centre is expected to bring in $90 million in annual benefits and create 800 ongoing jobs once the precinct is complete.