Jim Eagles: It's easy to spot those spoilsport neighbours

Meandering through the streets by Eden Park before the Lions games provided an interesting insight into human nature. Some houses looked like Fort Knox, cowering in darkness behind curtains, high fences and locked gates in the hope of keeping the rugby barbarians at bay.

Other properties were alive with people, cars, barbecues and music as the owners celebrated an exciting sporting occasion.

At a guess I'd say some of the darkened forts belonged to the people who hate the fact that they live alongside the country's greatest sports arena and are fighting tooth and nail to restrict its hours, prevent its expansion and limit the scope of the entertainment it offers.

I can appreciate that it must be extremely frustrating for householders to regularly find their roads clogged, their fences urinated on, and their children kept awake by bright lights and loud noises. But then why did they buy there? It's not as though Eden Park sprang up overnight.

From time to time I have known people who owned houses close to the park but in each case the proximity was a major reason for buying. With such a party-and-parking venue they greatly increased their value as acquaintances. On big sports occasions their houses were alive with fun and friends.

The owners moved in with full knowledge that from time to time they would be inconvenienced by crowds attending events at the park, accepted that, and made the most of it.

What were the inhabitants of the darkened forts thinking when they moved there? Did they turn a blind eye to the noisy reality? Did they think big events would suddenly move away? Or do they expect the rest of the world to conform to their personal needs?

Unfortunately, a lot of people obviously do feel that way because such problems are increasingly common.

There has been plenty of publicity about the small group who bought houses adjacent to the Western Springs Speedway and then tried to have it shut down because of the noise.

Before that, we had the people who bought poorly insulated central-city apartments and then tried to get nearby restaurants and bars to close early because of the noise.

It's an attitude that I have great difficulty understanding.

If someone buys a home in a quiet neighbourhood and a disco opens in the house next door then they have every right to complain. But to buy a home next to a disco and then try to shut it down seems completely unreasonable.

My wife and I live close to two sports grounds. A big reason for moving there was the knowledge that most of the time we would have free use of the open spaces, the cricket and rugby clubs would be only a stroll away, and at weekends we'd have free entertainment from the sports teams.

But we knew that at weekends the street would be clogged with cars, night training might keep visiting grandchildren awake and there might be some noisy clubroom parties. And so it has proved.

Should we now campaign to curb the activities of the cricket and rugby clubs? Of course not. It would be unfair and selfish. Yet I am aware of others living in our neighbourhood who have attempted to do exactly that. They haven't succeeded yet but you can't be sure they won't in the future. I know of sports clubs elsewhere which have had their activities severely curtailed because of neighbours complaining about early-morning training, floodlights and late functions. One of the problems created by the Resource Management Act and its cousin, the Reserves Act, is to create a charter for the unreasonable, the selfish and the narrowminded.

For instance, I have been involved with a project to put plaques along a reserve pathway to commemorate the work of local people. That seemingly straightforward exercise took three years because everyone nearby had to be consulted - by circular.

Then, when the project became caught up in city bureaucracy for months, the council decided to consult again in case anyone had changed their mind. Neither exercise produced any opposition but just as the project was about to start, one person objected on the grounds of inadequate consultation and threatened legal action. Now the whole exercise has been shelved.

This is not an isolated case. I know of the consultation process disrupting plans for a walkway, toilet block, museum, wharf and cycle race because a few people objected. Multiply that nationwide and you have a huge problem.

It's small wonder if volunteers give up in frustration. It is equally unsurprising if community activities fall by the wayside and we lack public facilities when a grizzle from some grump is all it takes to put the kybosh on a project.

There seems no common sense, no balance in the way the rules are administered. There is nothing wrong with consulting people about, say, a plan to extend a sports stadium or lay commemorative plaques.

The trouble arises because, first, too many people use consultation to further their own narrow interests or pay off old scores and, second, too many councils - reluctant to become entangled in legal challenges - effectively give complainers a right of veto.

Proponents of consultation argue that it is democracy in action. That may be true in theory but unfortunately it rarely works that way in practice. Ordinary people rarely respond to the opportunity to give their views because they are too busy getting on with their lives.

Instead, consultation is all too often a chance for the local busybody, the neighbourhood curmudgeon and the nimby brigade to force the rest of the world to conform to their selfish viewpoints. Do we really want these people running our communities?

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