Owen McShane of the Centre for Resource Management Studies sends out a digest each week with planning information in it. He sometimes also includes some humorous aspects to what can be a very frustrating experience – dealing with councils. This one had me in stitches. This is EXACTLY how council officers are. This is not an exaggeration at all:
5. Entertainment: When the Tables are Turned.
The numerous “tales of woe” sent by long-suffering landowners in District and Regions around the country, normally seem to go their distance without generating any relief. So it is worth recording those few occasions when a landowner seizes an opportunity to strike back.
The following letter to a Council is from a disgruntled landowner and small-scale developer, who has experienced a series of unsatisfactory encounters with Council, and is concerned about the unexpected consequences of their “Effects Based” Proposed District Plan. The opportunity arose when the boot was on the other foot when he received a request from Council seeking permission to cross his land to repair yet another broken Council sewer, this time on a neighbour’s landlocked land adjoining his own. He wrote this letter to force a non-responsive council to address several outstanding grievances and to illustrate to Council the “Effect” when so much of their Proposed District Pan is subjective, and discretionary, and what it might be like if this approach applied to Council’s own activities. (Names have been deleted to protect the guilty):
I refer to your recent request for access over our private land to repair a broken and overflowing Council sewer on an adjoining property.
Council will need to complete an application, in accordance with our recently adopted policies resulting from many ongoing and unsatisfactory experiences with Council’s consultants and with Council itself. Council therefore must:
1. Pay our Application fee – there may be some credit if we cannot use it all up.
2. Lodge a Bond for damage to private works or property. Only our Solicitor can prepare this for you, at a great and unwarranted charge of $800 expense. Council can avoid the other usual Bond required to cover possible damage to Council roads by vehicles complying with normal road axle load regulations, as, except for Transit’s roads, they are Council roads.
3. File a Traffic Management Plan. Cones and a Go-Go girl will be approved, subject to viewing photos, and meeting the form and functional parameters of our reviewer, at his whim.
4. Supply a Schedule of plant and materials to be used, and confirm the various relevant insurances are up to date: Please send copies of policies, including professional liability insurance, and proof of payment.
5. Supply a summary of the experience and qualifications of those who will be watching.
6. Supply a summary of experience and qualifications those who will be doing the work.
7. Supply independent quotes for the works, for our engineer, at your expense, to check to ascertain Bond amounts.
Nature of Application.
B1. Deemed to be a Discretionary Activity. Our land is many metres above HWM, but as it is subject to a Proposed harbour zoning and, since it has raw sewage escaping onto it, for which Council is responsible, your Application is for a “Discretionary Activity”. Therefore, a number of consultants have the opportunity to identify concerns, and to address these concerns (relating in the main to their incomes). The consultants will assume those with skill and capital have no appreciation whatsoever of how to enhance properties, protect the environment, or are able to sustain the economic wellbeing and growth of community outside Council and its Consultants. (Allow 3 weeks to initiate, 3 weeks to report, and a further 3 weeks after each question.)
B2. Consequences of ‘Effects’. Your application must deal with both containment issues to prevent further sewage from escaping, remediation of enrichment damage, and an expert’s report that our worms are not suffering any adverse and unmitigated effects. Worms are the backbone of sustainable agriculture, so please provide full details, including an ecological assessment.
B3. Notice to residents. Until all requirements are met, each affected resident must be issued notice not to use the sewer, butt to ‘hold tight’ until the sewer is repaired, (You are required to provide evidence of consultation with each affected resident).
B4. Remedial works are required for the surrounding soil re-establishment, and counselling shall be provided for any of our livestock traumatised by this event. (In accordance with the new ‘effects-based planning fashion’, because the sewer contents have spewed onto their dinner plates and caused them to belch excessive methane and to stop work – a CO2 absorbing landscape planting plan will also need to be submitted and approved, along with a satisfactory approved ‘cow-whisperers’ report re trauma).
B5. The maintenance bond will be retained for 12 months from completion to check all work has been done properly, including monitoring of the worms by the ‘mindaworm’ and source establishment by ‘Track & Trace’ programmes to get to the bottom of this incident.
B6. Pre-requisite matters. The outstanding matters (see A, B, C, D and E as follows), must be settled before any Entry or Compliance Certificate can be issued. This is modelled on Council’s standard greenmail methods – the retention of certificates until clients acquiesce, and to avoid Council’s proper attention to all previous requests for information and explanations).
B7. Processing time compliances. Your application will be ‘on hold’ (so we don’t have to account for delays) until your reports are filed. (Please note the year dates correctly on filings.)
I enclose just some of the most recent outstanding matters Council must address before any Certificates of Entry or Compliance will be issued:
A. Stopwork fees for 4 inspections (fines) for pouring concrete on private land for a footpath. 4 x $110 = $440 as charged by Council. Unnecessary inspections were either to raise Council income or perhaps to check the footpath had not walked away.
B. Relating to water used assisting in the repair of a previous Council sewer break. Council’s thanks include a $310 charge for removal of a 20mm alkathene Tee as charged by Council for 5 minutes work, (An hourly rate around $3,000 per hour).
C. Recovery of Water costs for the water supplied in assisting Council repair a previous Council sewer break, being a penalty fine of $500 charged by Council for accessing a water pipe for emergency supply used to waterblast Council’s blocked sewer.
D. Requirement we arrange a drainage easement over neighbour’s land we do not own, already subject to a Covenant on their Title compelling them to retain water in a dam on their own land. Council charged me $750 just to defer considering this issue!
E. Details of all previous Council accounts, as frequently requested, and NOT just the totals, with no dates, and no breakdowns given. (Obama would like to know how you manage this).
F. Details of possibly incorrect accounts where apparently Council can’t properly trace these to someone else until Council’s accounting systems improve.
I appreciate that all the above ‘developer-incentives’ are Council’s attempts to encourage developers, reduce unemployment, provide more work for trades-people, and attract more ratepayers to the District to reduce individuals’ rate rises. However, I would like an exemption from that programme, considering myself better able to continue without such assistance.
As a concerned ratepayer and developer (now with a small ‘d’ for discouraged and departing, as a result of issues with Council) I would like Councillors and Staff to seriously consider these matters. Given the emergency situation, and for Public health reasons, we will however exercise our discretion and suspend all the requirements above and we will give Council access to the sewer, immediately on receipt of Council’s confirmation, that someone from Council, with authority, will meet with me to discuss items A, B, C, D, & E on site instead of ignoring them as has been Council policy to date.
I would respectfully request that Council arranges to meet with me on site to review these items of concern, and its perverse administration and implementation of the RMA.
Disgruntled and Departing Landowner.
Very well done I thought.