Feathers flying over an issue far from paltry

00:00, Jun 28 2014

Running a city is no job for the faint-hearted. In presiding over a nest egg of more than a billion dollars of assets and annual revenue of $100 million (half of that coming from our rates), we have every right to demand that those ruling the roost offer wise and fair governance.

They will, we expect, treat every decision as momentous - or at least anticipate the impact it will have on the rest of us. We expect them to scratch beneath the surface of every funding application, and to spend each public dollar as if it were their own. It goes without saying that they must never attempt to use their positions to feather their own nests.

Nelson councillors have had their share of challenges in their first year. They have had an embarrassing project over-run, and an equally controversial stadium closure to deal with - issues big enough to test any new clutch of councillors. So the chance this week to unruffle feathers as they considered a comparatively paltry matter was welcome.

Councillors can be forgiven if some seemed a little cock-a-hoop in debating the issue of backyard hen houses; more specifically, their proximity to neighbouring properties. As one councillor impersonated a leghorn, another cried fowl - and fair enough. Our national politicians can't help themselves, but we can surely expect our local councillors to show more decorum.

As one of the first settled parts of New Zealand, Nelson has long had chickens as part of the urban landscape. News that our city joins only Queenstown and Wellington in having no rules around the appropriate raising of chickens comes as a surprise.

Council staff started pecking through the rules and regulations of other councils in response to a complaint by Stoke woman Cara Miller. Alarmed that a neighbour's boundary henhouse was less than 2 metres from her bedroom, she urged council to think about the impact such a laissez-faire approach could have.

It's the sort of issue that becomes increasingly common as communities grow. As Nelson land suitable for housing becomes more expensive, the temptation is for greater residential density. The net result is that the impact neighbours have on each other can only grow - and consequently, the demand for restrictive regulations increases.

In this case, the need for a suitable bylaw is clear. Tasman District, and many other councils, require a setback of 2m from boundaries and 10m from neighbouring houses. The latter test would be difficult in urban areas. Some town sections are just 10m wide - though in that case, there might be easier ways to top up on eggs for the whanau than producing your own. Good luck, then, councillors, in considering the issue. A handful of Nelson creativity is bound to produce a ruling to crow about.