Brian Rudman: A touch of Muldoonism may not be such a bad thing

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Critics of Finance Minister Michael Cullen's moves to block the foreign takeover of Auckland Airport have accused him of Muldoonism. They froth away as if a touch of political intervention should be top of the Pope's new list of deadly sins, but to me, the real sin would be if he had stood aside and claimed his hands were tied by red tape.

After all, why do we bother with all the costs and imperfections of a democratic system, if not to have elected representatives who can, in an emergency, leap to the rescue when the system fails.

It was wonderful yesterday to see Auckland City Mayor John Banks and regional council chairman Mike Lee similarly challenging the bureaucrats and demanding the preservation of the imperilled historic Building 5 at Greenlane Hospital. Like Dr Cullen, they appreciate that in extremis, it's action that's needed, not textural analysis.

Let's hope that Auckland District Health Board chairman Pat Snedden and his fellow board members have got the message that everyone, from Prime Minister Helen Clark down, thinks little of their plans to replace this heritage gem with a 30-vehicle asphalt carpark. Certainly an uncanny silence has enveloped the board since their demolition plans were revealed in the Herald last week. Hopefully they're on their knees seeking forgiveness.

Auckland City bureaucrats should also be embarrassed for rubber stamping the demolition permit without a fight. It's taken courageous medical worker Helen Geary to halt the bulldozers _ for now at least, with her last-minute appeal to the Environment Court. But as Mike Lee says, "There is something deeply shameful when a group of nurses are left to take the lead in protecting an important heritage building when we have well-paid people employed to protect heritage studiously looking the other way."

He was criticising the inaction of his own bureaucrats, but equally guilty are their counterparts at Auckland City and the Historic Places Trust.

Worst are the Auckland City staff who initially graded the building as deserving of protection with a score of 53 but then, after the health officials complained, downgraded it to a failed 49 points.

Tomorrow, the politicians on ACC's city development committee have a chance to hit back at the bureaucrats and reject the downgrading. The demolition permit was granted on the basis that the city was withdrawing its plans to schedule the building because it had failed the heritage test. By refusing to rubber stamp this downgrading, the politicians will force a total rethink.

The most farcical aspect of the downgrading is the "discovery" by the bureaucrats that the building was completed in 1917, not in 1915 as they originally thought. A building built before 1916 automatically scores two heritage points. After that, nothing. To condemn a gracious century-old landmark because of a slight confusion over her age seems straight out of Kafka.

Most of us, viewing the evidence, would say it is a decade older anyway. After all, the bottom half, costing $10,000, was opened on December 9, 1907, as an infirmary adjoining the 1890 Costley Home, which miraculously still stands. The Herald on November 17, 1917, records the previous day's grand opening of the $13,632 infirmary extensions in the presence of Sir Frederick Lang, Speaker of Parliament. "The new ward is practically a replica of the ward on the ground floor," said the report.

In July 1915, a decision was made to duplicate the existing 1907 structure by going up a floor. An eyewitness records the addition was "a replica" of the existing structure.

Despite this, chief heritage adviser George Farrant, in his report to tomorrow's meeting, argues "it was the the final construction that essentially established the architect- ural form and style of the building", thus it is a 1917 building.

This, despite the board chairman of the day emphasising the addition was duplicating the 1907 style and form.

The 1916 barrier is an artifice of officialdom to begin with. But given the evidence, who but the bureaucrat who designed it would argue that this building was on the wrong side of it?

At times like this, would a dash of Muldoonism be so bad?

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