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Saturday, 10 October 2009


The obscenity that is Auckland City Council has produced some shockingly excessive examples of crass stupidity and bureaucratic waste in its time, from the huge to the small. A still-current example of the smaller end of the Fathead Scale is the saga of the supermarket steps. Many people who walk to the supermarket from further up Ostend take a shortcut by going down the steep berm and over the gently-sloping grass at the top corner of the property instead of going right round the footpath. Very sensible: it is the quickest way to the front door.

But because the berm is steep it is not an easy route, and is hazardous when wet, or when going back up carrying shopping-bags, so soon after the 2007 election I put forward as a SLIPs proposal that we build a flight of steps at that corner (SLIPs is Council-speak for Small Local Improvement Projects). Eight wooden steps and a handrail going down the public berm. A very easy task.

But the council officers, for some reason that had nothing to do with reason, did not want the steps. So they invented lies to serve as obstructions.

Lie Number One said that putting steps there was illegal because it would create trespassers. It is impossible to fathom how they managed to think that anyone could take seriously the notion that giving people easier and safer passage into a public shopping-area, down a route that they had been using frequently for yonks, would create trespassers. But why let reason and the truth get in the way of malign bureaucratic intransigence?

That lie, of course, was finally compelled to crumble in the face of the truth.

The SLIPs empire comes under Michael McQuillan, king of the wheelie-bins and unflagging pusher of a hidesouly expensive sewerage system for the island. His empire, nothing daunted, recently switched to Lie Number Two. After beavering away from nearly two years, off and on, mainly very off (with the help of its 117-page manual), it arrived at a quotation for these eight steps and a handrail: $29,880!!! With a footnote that it might cost more. That makes pale into petty cash the outrageous $3970 they spent last year on six steps and a handrail in O'Brien Road.

One of the reasons for the huge cost is that McQuillan's empire added a completely unnecessary 50-metre path across the very land that they said the steps would create trespassers on. They proposed paying for a gravel path across Tony Pope's grass. A breakdown of all their costings shows $1000 for someone to stand there for a total of 24 hours counting pedestrians (who use the shortcut so much they they have worn a rut that shows in Council aerial photos); $16,203 for the steps and the path; $2821 to secure the easement for the path that no one asked for; $4656 for project-management (read consultants fee?); $200 to maintain the steps, then $600 a year to maintain them thereafter.

You have to hand it to them. They have raised incompetence, profligate waste and separation from reality to a stunningly high level. As the acid old joke says: 'You can't criticise the organisation because there isn't any.'

A true costing for the supermarket steps, with the helpful assistance of Placemakers, comes to no more than $1100, and that includes the building consent, and, to underline the point, quoting on H6 treatment (timber treated for immersion in the sea) even though only H4 is needed (the Council insists on H5).

Anyone with a working brain-cell and two functioning hands could get the whole thing done in a few days. When I did the twenty-nine wooden steps across the berm at my place it took only a few days, ant that was in the heat of February, and working with hand-tools because my power was not then connected.

Fortunately we have a Community Board, which at its monthly meeting in September voted to cut through all that nonsense, and ordered that nothing be done except to build the steps as specified.

As Councillor Roche accurately summarised during the Community Board's discussion, the $29,880 gambit was nothing but utu (a Maori word that means revenge)--aimed at me personally, and at Waiheke in general, by council officers driven by malice rather than responsibility and the rule of law.

We shall see if we get the steps, and how much longer it takes, and what the final cost turns out to tbe.