A strong workman, stencilled in Soviet socialist realism style, holds two rollers beside Great North Rd. Above him is a timely warning from Component of the Cut Collective: "Keep the wall grey and the mind will follow."

Yet the Auckland Council and KiwiRail aren't just keeping walls grey - they're spreading grey on to walls of colour, like nanobot soup or the terrifying Nothing in The Neverending Story. I complained last year about blank hoardings and grim reservoirs, but now it's worse.

New art-free hoardings are stonewalling the central library and - more upsetting - all the large graffiti art pieces at Mt Eden railway station are gone, as is Askew's Poynton Tce mural, as reported in Sideswipe last week.

The council is adamant that the buffing of the legit Poynton Tce mural was a mistake. But even if this is the case (and Askew thinks it might have been a bid by council officers to get design control of a replacement mural), their tough anti-graffiti talk created an aggressive atmosphere where such a mistake could happen.

Let's not pretend. Apart from tags on private garage doors, fences and the like, this graffiti "war" is a battle over aesthetics, a battle in which council taste is offside with an increasing number of city dwellers.

The council does not have an official definition of "graffiti vandalism" but its agents think they know it when they see it, and they want it gone. The Poynton Tce incident is not the first time legitimate graffiti art has been removed without permission from private property by the council or its contractors, but not many property owners are willing to complain on behalf of the artists.

Displaying a remarkably Soviet taste, similar to Component's workman stencil, a February council report on graffiti vandalism features a number of art murals it approves of, all of them figurative, none of them spray-paint or word-based. As such, it ignores Auckland's semi-abstract spray-paint graffiti scene, even though it is internationally acclaimed as cutting-edge and is something to celebrate.

It also ignores the different motivations of taggers and graffiti artists - only some do it to get up people's noses or for name fame; others are genuinely interested in the artform, using their initiative to give public social commentary or simply brighten up the city.

Yes, the interesting, historic Mt Eden pieces and others were technically graffiti vandalism, in that they were painted without permission. But treating them like the stink-looking tags elsewhere in the rail corridor is like calling noise control to a free impromptu Sunday afternoon jazz concert because you don't like the awful house music your neighbours play loudly at 3am.

Their erasure is part of the Rugby World Cup clean-up. Along come rugby fans from Mummy England and all of a sudden colonial teenager Auckland feels a need to chintz up its hip urban living room. Will the Cool Britannia reps really appreciate the decor change?

Maybe if the council encouraged legitimate replacement graffiti murals I would feel a bit differently. But the floods of half-tea paint are just erasing painstaking work and inviting poor-quality scrawls nobody likes - not even Askew, who's partial to a clever tag.

"It looks like hippies have gone out for a blat with a spray can for the first time," he complains. Yikes. The writing's on the wall.

* See askew1.com