Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Mowerless face a wild suburbia

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The Auckland Council wants to save $3 million by cutting out the time-honoured practice of verge cutting.

Council attention to untidy berms is under threat in a bid to save money. Photo / Supplied
Council attention to untidy berms is under threat in a bid to save money. Photo / Supplied

Oh dear, here we go again. I'm a bad citizen because I don't mow my grass verge. The last round of witch-hunting against non-mowers erupted a decade ago when Auckland City Mayor John Banks slashed the traditional fortnightly berm-mowing regime back to once monthly - except for main roads, where, for cosmetic reasons, the short back and side policy survived.

Now Mayor Len Brown wants to save $3 million by abolishing the old Auckland City tradition altogether.

Wearing my ratepayer's cap, I should be grateful for every penny scrimped and saved by the mayor. Especially given the double-digit rates increase I was walloped with this year. But without a lawnmower to my name - oh the shame, how un-Kiwi - I'm less than excited about the implication that I should fork out $250 to $300 for such a tool. Just to keep the mayor's berm and budget trimmed.

It's not that I'm being deliberately cantankerous. It's just that I don't have a lawn.

There was a handkerchief-sized plot of grass and moss under an ancient Brazilian pepper tree when I moved into the place many years ago. It never prospered, however, so I replaced it with plants more appropriate to the sunless setting.

For a while afterwards, I used to heave my inherited family push-mower up over the back deck and out the front to confront the council's greenery. But not being a masochist, I found little fun in embarrassing myself in public by proving that neither me nor my blunt blades, were any match for wild grass. Push mowers might be fine for the bowling green-like surfaces my dad used to cultivate, but they're no match for feral berms. Not exactly elephant country yet, but lush enough with spring growth to allow shy toy dogs to take their ease out of the public gaze.

The last report I read claimed about 40 per cent of those living within the old Auckland City boundaries don't mow the council's strip of grass. I'm not sure why not, but I'm certain that as new apartment buildings blossom to make up a goodly proportion of the 400,000 new homes required over the next 30 years, the number of mowerless households is going to burgeon.

I did once ask the neighbour's lawnmowing contractor to quote for doing my berm, but he laughed and refused, saying it was council business. The bylaws suggest he could be right. Clause 20.2 of the Public Places Bylaw 2008 says "A person shall not, on or in any public space ... kill, injure, damage, remove or interfere with any flora or fauna ..."

The council says that footpaths, berms and grass verges "are considered part of the roadway" and that "public spaces under the control of Auckland City Council include roads ..."

Unfortunately the above bylaw not only bans me from interfering with the grass, it also stops citizens from flossying up the berm with wild flowers or grasses or, for that matter, pumpkin plants.

A council manager knocked such dissolute behaviour on the head a while back, telling the Herald that if gardens were allowed to be developed, such wantonness could lead to added structures such as trellises and stakes. If these weren't maintained properly they could become hazards for pedestrians, cyclists, joggers and the like - oh yes, and to the visually impaired and users of mobility scooters.

Auckland Transport, which now governs the roads and berms, appears marginally more flexible on the subject. A spokesperson said on Friday that "Auckland Transport does not encourage homeowners to develop or change the berm", however, she offered a glimmer of hope, saying "any planting of the berm needs to be registered and approved by the Auckland Council Parks maintenance staff". Instead of tripping up the halt and the lame, the worry now is of possible root damage to the adjacent footpaths. As for just concreting over the grass strip, "that would make it very difficult to maintain underground services which run under the berm".

No doubt some compromise will be struck. The old Manukau City used to cut berms once they reached 200mm high. Waitakere moved in once they became a fire or traffic hazard or became infested with noxious weeds. Hard-arse North Shore insisted residents mow, unless they were physically unable. I did think of a goat. But as "stock" they're banned.

- 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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