Brian Rudman: Clampdowns sign of tougher times for bylaw transgressors

About the time Captain Cook was rediscovering New Zealand, Admiral Byng was being court-martialled and executed for "failure to do his utmost". His crime had been to let the French get the better of him in some skirmish or other.

Voltaire, the French playwright, later suggested the British, from time to time, found it desirable to shoot an admiral "pour encourager les autres" - to encourage the others.

The bon mot came to mind in the case of two enforcement actions the Auckland City Council has recently been involved in. One, the restorative justice conference involving Royal Oak tree-chopper George Bernard Shaw, the other, the dawn raid by council agents to remove illegal signs on the Retravision Stereo World shop in Dominion Rd. With luck, both actions would have encouraged like-minded property developers and shop-owners to remember that council bylaws apply to everyone, not just the other bloke.

Of course, in the admiral's case, the implication is that he was dealt with excessively harshly in order to put the fear of God into his fellow officers.

In the two local cases, it's not so much the harshness of any council action that might dissuade others, as the certainty of being pursued, and the inevitability of bad publicity.

And with councillors last year voting another $200,000 for enforcement activities, there is now every chance that more "encouraging the others" cases will pop up.

Which is wonderful news, particularly if it helps to get the message out that the council is no longer a walkover when it comes to regulatory infringements, which many developers and the like seem to think it is.

I have to confess, as a dedicated foe of billboards, that I've been a bit slow to jump into the council's long-running battle against the uglification of the Stereo World shop.

The truth is, between you and me, the shop has long been my electronic bargain basement of choice. Over the years, the garish blue paint that covers the place has come to be something of a beacon for me, even when I'm just passing by.

It wasn't until the council's dawn raid this month and the removal of more than a dozen illegal signs, that I had to admit to myself how out-of-control the outdoor advertising had become.

Defiantly, by the end of the week, Stereo World had bounced back by decorating the now broader expanses of blue paint with assorted polka dots in such tasteful retro shades as lime green and shocking pink.

A merry jape, perhaps, but I do hope a temporary one. On Friday I drove out and for once resisted the temptation to disappear inside. Instead I looked at the eyesore the outside has become.

The 99-year-old landmark corner brick building was purpose-built as a butcher shop and could scrub up to be the grandest shop in the area.

But at present the best that can be said is that we customers can be sure that none of our hard-earned cash has gone into discretionary building maintenance.

Sash windows upstairs were propped open with an old brick and a bit of skirting board. The windows at pavement level are covered by grubby board signs.

As far as I'm aware, TV's One News has not caught up with this battle, which is a shame. For if ever an organisation needed to be "encouraged" by what is happening to others, it's the state broadcaster, which drapes ugly promotional banners down its landmark central Auckland headquarters.

To deface its prestige building in such a manner is just as tacky as what's happening down Dominion Rd. And it gets worse.

Rival TV3 commandeered the apartment building diagonally opposite TVNZ , using it to taunt the state broadcaster with huge images of then newsreaders John Campbell and Carol Hirschfeld.

As a one-off it was amusing and perhaps forgivable.

But TVNZ was obviously so put out it made an offer for the site that couldn't be refused, and took it over for its own use.

One objective of the sign bylaws is that a sign should not significantly alter the presence of a building.

On that count, both Stereo World and TVNZ seem equally culpable.

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