Dear Richard Briggs,
This is a formal and public complaint about a Hamilton City Council employee, namely the chief executive. The Local Government Act 2002 Section 42 Part 2 (c) and (d) means you are responsible for the performance of all other employees. So even though you had nothing to do with the following, you get the complaint because you get the big bucks.
Don't take this complaint personally. You have actually taken some good steps recently with a commitment to save $10 million per year without reducing services (why wasn't this done earlier?) and starting the mayor's red-tape review. I gather from inside sources that you are meeting resistance from staff on that review. I hope this complaint will in fact help you. When staff see the big boss is getting it in the neck, they may realise that their positions are fragile, and that they do have to do what the community wants. There needs to be real progress seen in the next year before the council elections.
I have been overwhelmed with the support for my columns and taking a stand. The next lot of councillors will be briefed on what actions are required by a large group of people affected by red tape and rising rates. The CEO, whoever that may be, will be backed to dismiss staff who do not actively work for the benefit of voters.
After a long list of issues, here is the one I am complaining about this time, chosen because readers will be amused by the farce.
The District Plan requires houses to have service areas. This is supposed to be a place for the clothesline, but that is not actually stated in the rules. Commercial buildings are also required to have service areas. A few businesses store rubbish (like packaging) outside, and a small percentage of these are messy. So rule-writers make all businesses waste expensive commercial land to have an outside area that is screened with a 1.8m timber fence to protect our innocent eyes - whether or not the business needs a service area or makes a mess.
In the last District Plan, some words were dropped by landscape rule-writers who had no thought about the impact on house rule-writers. For them, it was easier to make the screens apply to all zones. Suddenly, hanging your freshly washed knickers on the line is deemed as offensive as smelly industrial waste.
Until recently, everyone realised this rule simply didn't make sense for the residential zone and ignored it – a practical but legally dubious solution. There are literally hundreds of new houses that don't comply with the District Plan. Lately, council staff have been enforcing it, at least on my jobs. I see other buildings still being done without it. Unsurprisingly, I have a problem with this approach.
On a current job, which is the source of my complaint, the situation is not unusual in that it is a sloping site. The section I am working on is higher than the neighbours. There will be a retaining wall 75cm high on the boundary. As I am being treated with pedantry, I have responded in kind. I have designed a 105cm fence on the retaining wall, which according to my maths totals a 1.8m screen. The District Plan agrees with me, as the rule refers to "a fence or wall".
There is a second retaining wall behind the first, which adds another 75cm to the ground height. So the fence is screening just a height of 30cm. The city planner is upset because this will screen nothing and claims that I do not comply. He is delaying the consent because of it, even though I comply with the letter of the law. Hence my complaint.
The planner is also complaining that the retaining walls mean the size of the service area is not met because part of it can't be used. There is no rule requiring the service area to be flat or even usable, because there is no performance requirement in the wording.
Now this might seem malicious on my part, and I should simply comply with the intention to screen the service area. But here is the ludicrous part. The rule has size constraints on the service area, which means designers are forced to locate it where it fits the site – not where it will be used. In most cases, this is nowhere near the position of the clothesline. There is nothing to be screened. It is all so utterly pointless.
What's more, the neighbour doesn't want the fence. It will be an eyesore and attract graffiti. He will be even angrier with council when he gets a bill for half the cost (Fencing Act 1978).
I could go on, such as the 1m planting buffer. There are a lot of homeowners who could start demanding compensation from council over the lack of resource consents for that one. So there is time pressure to get rid of silly red-tape rules and attitudes before it starts hitting ratepayers in the pocket.
* Richard Briggs has been invited to respond to this column. His reply should appear this week.
* Andrew Bydder is spokesman for the Hamilton Residents & Ratepayers Association and a local architect.