If there is one emotion that politicians at all levels fear, it is grumpiness. That, when all is said and done, is what accounted for the fall from grace of Cabinet ministers Clare Curran and Meka Whaitiri, and should see Iain Lees-Galloway lose the Immigration portfolio.

And while local government politicians don't have polls to measure levels of public grumpiness, it is key to saving the Swamp Palace at Ōruru from the demolition squad.

However, district councils past and present, and even perhaps the old Mangonui County Council, have failed the Ōruru community by not maintaining the hall over many years, some stark realities have to be faced.

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The starkest of all is that some hundreds of thousands of dollars will be needed just to restore the hall to a point where it isn't going to collapse if someone leans on it.

The Swamp Palace defenders have absolutely no doubt that that expenditure would be justified, but their enthusiasm might not be shared by ratepayers further afield.

The Ōruru and Inland Valleys Association has a very good point when it says the hall is more than just another dilapidated community facility though. It has history; one of those who spoke at the meeting with council representatives at Taipā earlier this month said its timbers had been "tuned", and no new building could replicate that.

That might be going a wee bit far, but there is no denying that many in the community love the old hall, which, admittedly, hardly makes it unique.

The community has every right, however, to feel aggrieved that the politicians they've been electing every three years since goodness knows when have let it reach such a sad state of repair that the council has closed it for fear that stepping through the door could be to risk being buried under a pile of timbers that an engineer claims are only still standing thanks to nails that are "holding hands".

Hence the grumpiness. The trick now is to maintain it, and the signs are that that won't be a problem.

The council has yet to agree to ride to the rescue, even to the extent of finding the money needed to undertake the most urgent structural work.

Mayor John Carter has said that $190,000 is available for that work, and that it will go much further if the community does some of it. Again the signs are that that won't be a problem.


There is a bigger picture though. The fact is that the Swamp Palace is not the only council-owned hall that needs significant expenditure, at a time when every ratepayer dollar needs to be spent to the best possible effect.

The council is surely aware that it cannot simply continue lifting its rates, which are surely nearing a point, if they haven't reached it already, where some people in this district won't be able to afford to live here. And of course there will always be competing demands for their money.

Mr Carter has hinted that saving the Swamp Palace might come down to striking a special rate, to be paid only by property owners in Te Hiku ward, or even targeted specifically at the community served by the hall, but the longer-term solution will probably turn out to be that the council, having restored it to a useable state, will hand it over to the community to maintain it in the future.

If the meeting at Taipā was any guide, such an offer would probably be accepted, with the possible proviso that the council grants permanent rate remissions. That would seem reasonable, although there may be some concern about setting a precedent that will impact on other ratepayers.

Whatever happens, it is good to see a community that is prepared to stick up for itself, and to at least consider options other than expecting ratepayers in general, many of whom would struggle to find Ōruru on a map, and will never set foot in the hall, to keep forking out for the rest of time.

The council might have a moral obligation to fund the hall's maintenance, and might have its predecessors to thank for the fact that a massive bill will now have to be paid to save it, but it would not be difficult to argue that the Swamp Palace has long passed its use-by date, and, sadly, it's time to move on.

It would be understandable if the council took that view, given the potential for other hall committees around the district to take heart from any major funding for this building and to hold their hands out too.

For the record, the Northland Age is officially hoping that a solution will be found, and that the Swamp Palace will continue to serve its community for many years to come. Given the passion that has been displayed in its defence, there is no reason why that should not happen. The hall's community has made it clear that it is prepared to be part of the solution, and that will be the key to its survival.

And there is an important principle here. We as a country tend to devalue our history, particularly in Auckland, where anything remotely old tends to be bowled to make way for something new. Physical links with our past are important, and there is value far beyond financial in maintaining those links. That is a philosophy that is clearly alive and well at Ōruru. That is a good thing.

Given that emotion, some people can perhaps be forgiven for indulging in the odd flight of fancy, even paranoia. Some who have contributed to this discussion on social media over the last week or two claim to have caught a whiff of corruption.

That's taking a bit of a leap. Another has detected some degree of collusion between this newspaper, specifically its 'editorial office' ("if there is one — yes there is) and the council to help the council avoid its financial responsibilities. Give me strength.

Others have interpreted the council's budgeting of $1.9 million, of which $593,000 was intended for the Swamp Palace, the hall in 2014-15, which in Ōruru's case at least never materialised, as breaching a legal commitment. Budgets and legal commitments are not one and the same, but at least these people's hearts are in the right place.

One of the more realistic, if pessimistic, posters opined that "The council is barely able to pay for vital infrastructure. They ain't gonna fork out for the Swampy. Old time NZ is once again left to fade away and disappear."

Hopefully not, but that will largely depend upon those who have taken up the cudgels on behalf of their hall. If they stick to their guns, if John Carter doesn't lose the empathy he expressed at Taipā, and that is unlikely, and if he can persuade a majority of his councillors to agree with him, there is every reason for optimism.

There is no doubt that the Swamp Palace can, and many would say should, be saved. It might require some compromise, and not a little effort by a lot of people, but it can be done. And if that comes to pass it should give heart to other small communities that might be feeling abandoned.

We live in a society now where too many people in authority know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The value of the Swamp Palace goes far beyond the price of fixing it.

The mayor and at least some of the councillors and community board members now know this, if they didn't know it before the meeting at Taipā, and if council and community pull together, everyone can be a winner.