The wrong way to send a message

The case of Peter and Diana Standen from Otaki on the Kapiti Coast has parallel stories in virtually every community in New Zealand. Here’s a quick run-down on their situation.

Peter and Diana are community minded people. Being retired they have the time to do a lot of volunteer work, including environmental restoration projects in their neighbourhood. They also own a patch of mature native bush, which not surprisingly has grown in stature over many years. They and their arborist were of a view that some of the trees were diseased and needed to be removed.  As a result of their actions, the Standens, and their arborist separately, have been charged with contravening the councils District Plan and face up to two years in prison or a fine of $300,000 for breaches of the Resource Management Act. Their crime was to modify indigenous vegetation more than four metres tall with a trunk circumference greater than 30cm. Seriously, I am not joking. These are diseased trees on their private property.

According to media reports, a neighbour had complained to the Kapiti Coast District Council about the work. The council then rang the Police, who turned up with an ecologist and a search warrant! Like the Police have nothing better to do?

So why was the Council so heavy handed? Because it wanted to send a message to others.

Well here’s a message for the mayor and councillors of the KCDC and councillors everywhere – that’s not good enough. It’s not right to intimidate good folk and use them as a vehicle to advance the council’s PR messages. If the Council wants to send a message to the community, it should take out advertisements in the newspaper! It should not unleash its unbridled power on individuals to create its media headlines.

In all probability the mayor and councillors did not know how the heavy-handed prosecution until they heard about it from the media. That of course is not an excuse and merely shows that the politicians are not in control of their staff. This sort of heavy-handed tactics by staff can be sorted very simply – the politicians should put pen to paper and write two policies. The first would prohibit staff from using council powers to “send a message to others”. The second would be that no prosecution should proceed without first being approved by the full council, or at least the mayor.

Politicians don’t seem to realise that it is they who will be blamed when their staff (who hide anonymously behind their clip boards) act like tyrants. Politicians also don’t seem to realise that backlash of discontent that is building globally against democratically elected leaders.

The Kapiti Coast District Council has certainly sent a message to the community. That message is the staff are running the council, not the elected representatives.  In my view this is more typical of most councils, and more typical of larger councils than smaller ones, hence my resolute opposition to local council amalgamation.

Staying with matters relating to amalgamation, the new Auckland super-city council has released its draft district plan; written at huge expense and need following amalgamation. The draft plan would require Auckland property owners to seek iwi approval to work on what is a vast area covering some 3600 sites of “value to mana whenua”. The effect is that whenever a landowner in the “iwi zone” wanted to do anything on their private property the council would require them to obtain a “cultural impact assessment” report from up to 19 iwi groups (i.e. potentially 19 reports in total!), at the landowners cost.

Let’s be honest about this – it’s a money making scheme, and the politicians know it but they don’t want to say so because it does not fit well with their policy of appeasement. While landowners affected by such demands object, very rarely do they voice their concerns publically lest it affects their current or future projects; they just pay up – it’s easier.

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