I'm a 'winner' but many others aren't

JOE BENNETT
Last updated 11:21 08/02/2012

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In August, two goons marched up the drive and slapped a sticker on my house. It threatened me with enormous fines if I didn't leave. I didn't leave.

Now, six months later, the council has sent me a letter saying I may remove the sticker. The letter did not include the word sorry. But it did thank me for my co-operation and understanding.

The six months have been instructive. I received a lot of correspondence. A few people hoped I'd be crushed to death. I did not write back to these people because none gave their name or address. I take this opportunity now to wish them warm and fruitful lives.

Most of the letters, phone calls and emails were kinder. One 88-year-old said she would like to help me defend my house. She was too old to tip oil, she said, but she was happy to boil it.

Now the council has backed down I have received more correspondence. One person sent biscuits for my dog. Another sent wine. And several have sent congratulations. I thank them all, especially the Waipara West winery. Do try their Ram Paddock Red 2006. It's like sex in a bottle, though without the squelchy noises.

The council's manager of Regulation and Democracy Services - I never tire of that title - said on radio that my sticker had been removed because of work my neighbour and I had done. That is not quite right.

The two rocks that could conceivably threaten my house were fixed by the neighbour before any earthquake struck. They have not budged and will not budge because they cannot budge. In December, the neighbour and I smashed two small rocks that were caught in a stock fence. These were above the neighbour's property, not mine.

In other words, the only material change at my place is that after six months and considerable expense the council has reached the conclusion that I reached after an hour and no expense on February 23, 2011. So by rights I should be celebrating.

But I am not celebrating. Dozens of people remain in the situation I was in. They remain threatened with eviction or legal proceedings for living in the houses they own. And I feel robbed of a chance to stand up for a cause. I was willing to go to court, even to prison, in defence of it.

In August, Mr Democracy Services issued a press release saying the council was concerned for the safety of people in red-stickered houses. Nice of him, but irrelevant. My safety is not the council's concern, just as theirs isn't mine. As I said on radio at the time, I don't need another mother. The decision to live in my house was mine to make, and mine alone. And the consequences were for me to accept, and me alone.

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If the council considered my place to be dangerous, they could put a sign outside saying so. Duty done. The truth is that the council never cared about my safety. It cared only about its own legal liability.

The council then changed tack. The mayor said it was not just a matter of my private safety. I was endangering the postie and the gas man. Had Mayor Parker asked the postie? No, he hadn't. But I did. She burst out laughing. Had he asked the gas man? No, he hadn't. And neither did I because we don't have gas.

But I did ask several tradesmen who came to my house. They burst out laughing.

These people understood their risk from a brief visit to my place was effectively nil. It was less risk than they ran from driving to work or from walking the streets of Lyttelton. And it was a risk they were happy to run.

There is peril in this world. Nothing is ever safe. Several people a year are hospitalised by their pyjamas trousers. It is up to each of us to assess danger and act accordingly.

And if you, as you read this, are still breathing you have shown that you're very good at assessing it. You haven't died once. No authority can match your 100 per cent success record. Nor have they any right to try. It is an intrusion on your freedom, your autonomy as an adult.

That is what I was fighting for, and what I will continue to fight for. If the legislation required the council to act as it has, then the legislation needs to be changed. If it does not, then the council needs to be spanked.

- The Press

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