Roads, drains, water and earthquakes

What a magnificent week it was last week. The weather was kind. Crank Up was glorious.

The buskers are absolutely brilliant and the kids are all going back to school. No, no, sorry, I don't mean that.

Only joking.

It's just that raising a child is no easy matter at the best of times but when you're an old age pensioner it's an even greater challenge.

On the bright side you do develop an appreciation of our wonderful parks and reserves.

The playgrounds in South City, Queens Park and Anderson Park are well patronised and if it's raining you can always visit our libraries or museums.

Council's official brand is that we are a "Child, Youth and Family Friendly City" and once again this year we will be hosting the Social Service Providers Aotearoa Conference.

The private sector also plays a major role helping parents to raise a family. Most cafes and restaurants have high chairs available and a basket of well- worn toys.

In my view the Cabbage Tree is the most child friendly restaurant in Southland with three super safe trampolines, six slides, an adjustable basketball hoop and numerous other outdoor features as well as a large indoor playroom. H&J Smith in Gore comes a close second. I accept that some patrons don't want to mix their cappuccinos with a screaming baby, so parents have a role to play if they want better childcare facilities.

Council's biggest challenge so far has been dealing with earthquake-prone buildings.

The council felt it should set a good example and start with itself. So far we have closed the Water Tower, the Bluff Service Centre and the Anderson Park Art Gallery.

Local Government New Zealand is making submissions to central government suggesting that giving communities five years to identify earthquake-prone buildings and then 15 years to repair or demolish them is too harsh considering the shortage of structural engineers.

It's ironic that councils are now responsible for earthquakes. We've had six new ministers of Local Government in the past decade and all of them have been hell-bent on the reformation of our sector.

We were told over and over again that local councils should focus on their core business of roads, drains and water reticulation.

Our council's purchase of a Lotto Shop in Bluff was raised in Parliament as a classic example of how local government had gone completely off the rails.

The bad old four well-beings were abolished and we were told to improve our infrastructure.

Fair enough. That's democracy. In fact many mayors and councillors are quietly relieved. They didn't particularly want to deal with all those social, environmental, economic and cultural well-beings.

Central government could deal with alcoholics, brothels, gambling, homeless people, legal- high shops, food banks and Citizens Advice. Most councillors didn't have the expertise to deal with issues such as fluoridation anyway.

If parliamentarians are so clever we will willingly let them take over all the fluffy fringe responsibilities contained in the four well-beings.

The real irony of the great government reforms is that councils are now under more pressure than ever from our local communities and the government to help with earthquake-prone buildings, leaky homes, emergency housing, events, alcohol, gambling, insulation, river pollution, clean air, sister cities in China and the list keeps growing.

Nor have our traditional responsibilities that were enhanced during their era of the four well-beings, diminished.

We still have to deal with libraries, museums, parks, theatres, pensioner housing, halls, swimming pools, walking tracks, cycling tracks, Civil Defence, Citizens Advice etc etc.

The only tangible or significant change to emerge from the great reforms was the restructuring of Auckland as a Super City and that's proven to be incredibly dysfunctional compared with the Lotto Shop at Bluff.

One of the great lessons of history is that if you feel passionate about reform you have to be careful not to exacerbate the problems that already exist and create a far worse situation.

Oops, I almost forgot. Asha's TV One programme on Invercargill's "Neighbourhood" will be re- screened on Sunday morning.

It's great promotion for our city.

Tim Shadbolt is Invercargill City Mayor.

The Southland Times