Editorial: An existential question

Look, the issue couldn't be any clearer.

Should the Southland District Council have charged a Lumsden small businessman $420 to get permission for a non-existing veranda to persist in not being there even though it would now be absent from the front of a building being used for a purpose quite different from that outside of which it previously wasn't?

Can't put it plainer than that.

All right, apparently we should try . . .

Back in the day, the old Lumsden BNZ building didn't have a veranda, even though the council rules dictate a commercial operation should. A scandalous omission, we grant you, yet somehow the townsfolk were able to turn up their collars and move on with their lives.

For reasons that needn't concern us now [well, actually they should, but not in this context] the bank closed. In recent years the building has stood sadly vacant and defiantly verandaless.

Enter Rob Scott, ready and willing to convert it into a cafe. A thoroughly welcome development. Technically, however, as someone ringing changes anyway, it also became his responsibility to remedy the longstanding issue of the non-standing veranda, unless he could persuade the council to use its discretion and say forget about it.

In a broader context, building regulations and government requirements are full of insistences that if you're changing this then that's when you also need to rectify that. Towns like Invercargill have a super-abundance of buildings trapped in stasis as a result of the thats being mighty expensive disincentives to business people for whom only the this bits make economic sense.

In Lumsden's case the council has granted Mr Scott an exemption from the veranda rule. Technically the term seems to be to "relax" the requirement, though that word is inapt to describe the experience. To have the council processing of his application cost him $420 and now people are seized with the same thought that has occurred to Mr Scott. This is a lot to pay for achieving nothing. And it took 3.5 hours at $120 an hour? Sheesh. We trust that didn't include a non-inspection.

Mr Scott does deserve some sympathy and he's received at least a measure of it from the council by way of discount on the original $675 processing fee and a few empathetic comments around the board table.

The process does seem to have been disconcertingly expensive. And it's not the first time he's struck it, having previously gone through the process to negate a requirement to put a veranda on a Totalspan shed at the back of the property. Sheds with verandas. Now that's classy.

Some simplification of the process doesn't seem too much to ask, though it would be possible to bend too far backwards to make things easy for even the most welcome projects in our small rural towns.

One of the hoops is surely a good one - to publicly notify the proposal to find out what the public thinks about relaxing a rule. Of course, the more clear, farsighted and well-understood a district plan is, the less this should need to happen. Those plans can't foresee every potential, but maybe some streamlining is achievable here. So when the district plan is being reviewed it's a fair bet there will be a veranda agenda.

The Southland Times