Ironies will arise when Govt launches attack on councils

First of all a public apology to Zachery Wakelin, the young 3-year-old who was trapped in a council automated public toilet; we have seven of these and they range in age from the two 14-year-olds to the new 1-year-old super loo at South City.

In total 980,000 people have used these facilities. So far we have had four incidents in 14 years, but as luck would have it, we had two within a week. The automated public toilets in Bluff will be upgraded.

I guess Acton Smith will be having a bad hair week after revelations that the steel tresses on the new stadium have come up short. As a born again optimist, I always like to look on the bright side of life, so I'll be advising Acton that at least the beams fit perfectly OK at one end.

This new situation will also stop me worrying about the pitch of the roof and we won't have any more complaints from neighbours about the shade line.

We've got to hope the Chinese don't get too upset about the Crafar farm deal turning to custard and get their revenge by sending us B-grade steel for the stadium. In fact, we shouldn't have simply accepted Louis Crimp's $2 million donation towards the stadium, but we should have made him project manager as well.

I'm just relieved council withdrew any representation on the Stadium Trust after they sued us for $27m.

The other big news in local government is that central government is determined to reform our sector. At present we are an easy target. Councils throughout New Zealand have scored some spectacular own goals. Tony Marryatt's pay increase, the V8 super car racing disaster, the traffic jams in Auckland, and the meltdown of the Kaipara District Council as a result of debt, have made all councils look hopeless.

We are also divided with many territorial councils, such as those in the far north, that are actively campaigning to destroy regional government.

There are, of course, many ironies that will arise when central government launches its attack on local government for organising events. The biggest and most expensive event the Invercargill City Council has ever been involved in was the Rugby World Cup. We only got involved in that extravaganza when central government came begging on bended knee for us to play the part in this "iconic" event.

The other factor that will inevitably be debated is the leaky home crisis. This was a central government own goal that makes the mistakes of local government pale into insignificance.

It started when Parliament decided there was far too much council red tape when it came to building houses. Both National and Labour were climbing over each other to take credit for this radical reform of the building codes in this country. Our brilliant MPs were patting each other on the back for changes that would make housing cheaper and the entire building sector far more efficient. There would be no more council building inspectors interfering with 'progress'.

Basically our MPs decided that private enterprise could inspect themselves. Naturally, both the building inspectors of the Southland District Council and the Invercargill City Council wrote desperate letters to our MPs pointing out that this was insane, but they were ignored or abused for patch protection.

Hansard makes interesting reading, as MP after MP crowed about how the backwards bureaucratic mandarins of local government were trying to stifle progress. Most of these MPs have never held a hammer in their lives.

And so it was to pass, and as soon as the private sector could inspect themselves they built thousands of houses out of Weetbix with a layer of Vegemite on top. Untreated timber was used on outdoor balconies, flashings became an optional extra and internal ventilation or eaves on roofs were considered unnecessary extras. Now we are facing a tsunami of rotting homes.

It will cost this country $23.8 billon or 12 per cent of GDP. Already we have had 38 suicides as a result of leaky homes.

Despite this disaster MPs will still beat local government because they have legislative power and we have to do what we're told. We supply unlimited water to our ratepayers for 85c a day.

Neither the Government or private sector could provide such an efficient service, but I'm convinced this will soon be privatised.

» Tim Shadbolt is the mayor of Invercargill.

The Southland Times