Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Forget mowers, let's use cows

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Turning Auckland into a kind of New Delhi with cows on every corner no dafter than slashing berm mowing

Pockets of streetscapes in the old Auckland City are now looking more like rural Rodney roads. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Pockets of streetscapes in the old Auckland City are now looking more like rural Rodney roads. Photo / Sarah Ivey

One-time Rodney dairy farmer Penny Webster got us into this berm-cutting mess as chair of Auckland Council's strategy and finance committee. What's her way out? Trucking a herd of cows into town?

Indeed, as Mrs Webster is a one-time Act MP and Auckland Federated Farmers president, perhaps the entrepreneurial possibility of grazing the urban "long-acre" was her masterplan all along. Not only was there lush grass going begging, but there were spin-off advantages.

Anyone who's tripped around India knows the traffic-calming effects of randomly wandering cows on city streets. Once drivers realised a half-tonne of meandering beast could be lurking behind every parked car, hooning down Ponsonby Rd would rapidly become a thing of the past.

If urban New Delhi can accommodate - and milk - a herd of 40,000 cows, why not Auckland?

With a cow or two on every street, Mrs Webster could also rethink Auckland Council's grandiose - and expensive - green recycling plans. Instead of wasting millions of dollars on manufacturing, distributing and then regularly collecting 440,000 new greenwaste recycling bins, how much more planet-friendly to feed our food scraps to friendly Doris or Matilda at the front gate.

The byproducts? No problems. Dried cow pats make ideal barbecue fuel. Just slap them on the sunny side of the house and let them dry.

Daft? Well, no dafter than a bunch of ex-suburban politicians from Mayor Len Brown down slashing a service that Auckland City ratepayers had previously paid for collectively.

Mrs Webster pumped out a press release this week sneering that "the rest of the region has always got on with it and mowed their own berms because local people have taken pride in their local community". What she conveniently ignores is that residents of the old Auckland City had equal pride in their local community. They just preferred to pay for services such as berm mowing through their rates.

We also expressed our pride in our city by funding a major art gallery, a public library service, a regional performing arts centre and many other facilities, all with little or no help from the citizens of Rodney or the other fringe areas now part of the Super City.

Mrs Webster and her fellow outlanders have inherited these fabulous regional facilities, all built at no cost to them. Instead of lecturing us on civic pride, they should be thanking the ratepayers of the old city. But instead of thanks, they squeeze the stone for more.

Perhaps they think old-city ratepayers haven't noticed that in Rodney, where Mrs Webster was once mayor, rates have gone up, on average, over the past three years, a minuscule 2.1 per cent, while in old Auckland City wards such as Orakei and Maungakiekie-Tamaki they've rocketed 17-18 per cent.

In other words, the ratepayers of the old city are now being called upon to subsidise the cost of dragging Rodney and other outlying areas into the 21st century. But to the outlanders now running the show, it's still not enough. They want to grab the $3 million a year it costs to continue berm-mowing in the old city as well.

Mrs Webster can be assured that trying to shame those without a mower is not going to work. Auckland Transport, which is in charge of trying to enforce this fiasco, is trying the heavy hand. It's implying it has some sort of statutory power to force residents to mow. It's even going through the farce of requiring people to produce a medical certificate to prove they're too infirm to carry out their "civic duty".

It should stop wasting public money. There is no bylaw or statute to back their bluster. Auckland Transport has admitted that, telling me, "There is no legal power to pursue and AT would not now be pursuing now this is delegated to us."

The plan seems to be to punish by neglect instead, mowing berms outside the homes of only those who've produced medical certificates proving they're too unwell to do it themselves. Those and the odd berms which are excessively steep or inaccessible.

It's taken just a few short weeks of spring growth to demonstrate what a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision this was. Pockets of the streetscapes in the old Auckland City are now looking more like a rural Rodney road, which might make Mrs Webster nostalgic. But it's hardly the transformation the Super City was supposed to deliver.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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