Being philosophically inclined to my making my own decisions about my own future I have been an entrepreneur for most of my working life. In the real world of business survival depends of being nimble enough to take advantage of new technologies in a rapidly changing world. Planning, at best, is something you do with a broad brush one year out.
It was only on retirement that I decided to dip my toe into the more sedate world of planning and politics through a stint on Council. What I found there would make any entrepreneur, indeed any citizen, weep. So I could only empathise when I came across this article by John Roughan in Saturday’s Herald.
It is getting so that every time the Auckland Council says or does something it causes me to wonder, do we need elected councils?,
Seriously. The whole of New Zealand has a population no bigger than a decent-sized world city. Can a population of four million support more than one elected body? By "support" I mean give the body real power.
Power forces an elected body to use common sense. Without power an elected body can easily become a talking shop of pointless, though possibly perfectly rational, proposals that we are never going to see.
Predictably, the council caved on the fireplace ban this week, but by then it had invited public discussion of another non-starter. It suggests a $2 toll on the motorways as an alternative to petrol tax or rate rises to fund its solutions to traffic congestion. The Government has said it's not going to happen. It said it again, so why is the council wasting time?
Why are 20 good people, all of them public-spirited, spending untold hours in meetings, chewing through piles of paper, cups of tea and chicken sandwiches, to come to decisions they must know are not going to happen?
It is not the cost, $2 is nothing, the real cost is to our sense of freedom. That reason is too weak to stand up in debate and governments will not use it. They struggle to explain their decision but they are in no doubt it reflects the popular will.
The incompetence of elected councils these days is not the fault of those elected to them. It is competence in the constitutional sense of what they are allowed to do. They are not allowed to manage road repairs, parks, rubbish collections and all the other things their electorate thinks they are going to do. These are for officers to manage and the politicians must not interfere.
So without enough to do, the elected body ponders long-term planning objectives and reads a great deal of paper on subjects such as environmental sustainability. Hence, I guess, the need to brick up the fireplace.
We could do away with the elected council and hardly notice. The Government and its agencies already make Auckland's important decisions. The motorways are the shining example. Congestion on my daily commute has been greatly reduced by the northern busway and the Victoria Park tunnel. It has been bad this week because it was wet. Aucklanders will not walk to a bus in the rain. Public transport is at best a fair weather solution.
If we need to elect a council it should be given the power to make decisions and charge us for them, with tolls if it dares. Then watch common sense prevail.