Comment by STEPHEN BERRY*
At the top of Symonds Street in Auckland sits a large brick and plaster structure that looks like a recycled Greek Temple, the First Church of Christ Scientist. You will probably recognise it by the large 'For Sale' signs that have been there since November 1999. Those signs are all still there. It is still on the market.
Around the building is a forest of cranes building new apartments for a burgeoning market, yet as the years roll by the Temple's 'For Sale' signs continue to fray and fade.
The building is listed in the Auckland Central District Plan as a Heritage B site. To be able to modify any part of the building or land, the owners require council permission. Sarah Pocklington, the Council Planning Technician, says: "It is a scheduled item under the district plan. The interior is also scheduled." One can almost hear the boot heels click!
The [obvious] conclusion might now be reached: the threat of council force against property owners has frightened any potential buyers from purchasing this property.
The agent for the property, Dick Knight, says of the Heritage B designation: "It certainly slows the process down. Without it (the designation), the building would have been bought and bulldozed by now."
The Resource Management Act (RMA) is what empowers the Auckland City Council to designate as a so-called 'Heritage Site' any private property it so wishes. Owners of land that has been designated as a heritage site require council permission to modify the property, and are required to pay exorbitant fees to acquire permission to modify their own land.
Control over private property has been usurped by parasitical government. The RMA renders property owners mere tenants. Activities that you engage in on your property are subject to beauracratic approval, which approval you must pursue at your own considerable expense. Penalties for non-compliance are fiercely harsh, and include the possibility of jail terms.
Government regulations always seem to have a negative effect on human behaviour. They can make some activities expensive, others uneconomical (therefore unexploited) and sometimes even impossible.
The chairman of the Board of the First Church of Christ Scientist, Tony Scarborough, has found this the unpleasant way. For what use is the ownership of land that you have no control over? Scarborough says that the building may have to be retained for religious studies if no buyer can be found.
Owners of old buildings are not the only ones that need fear the power of councils under the RMA. Removing a native tree from your land will raise the ire of the Act's enforcers as a contractor and consultant engineer discovered when, in July 2000, they removed a rimu tree from a Henderson housing subdivision. The pair committed the crime of not requesting permission from the Waitakere City Council to cut the tree down. For such a terrible offence, the Council prosecuted and a $14,000 fine was imposed.
Vetcare, a veterinary practice in Greytown, ran foul of the RMA in February 2001. Two stylised cats on the shop sign did not fit into the council's district plan due to their tails protruding 10 centimetres above the roof. The Adventure Centre & Cafe, opposite the veterinary practise was told that's its sign was too big and too high.
The South Wairarapa District Council invited the two businesses to make an application for resource consent, allowing the businesses to retain their signage. Rather than pay the $495 fee, Vetcare owner Heidi McGrath decided to dock the cats tails and cover the stubs with a bandage. There is no violation of the rights of other private property owners in these cases.
What then, gives local government the right to intervene in the affairs of private property owners? The Resource Management Act has resulted in a picky, proactive beauracracy committed to central planning, and initiating force against property owners that do not toe the state line.
How can a government body justify penalties of up to 2 years in prison and a $200,000 fine for using your land as you please. What business is it of the Government if you are not violating the rights of other individuals and property owners?
The RMA has spawned queues of iwi groups, special interests and professional objectors, which have their say at the expense and delay of a resource consent applicant. What business is it of theirs what you do on your property? Are their rights being violated? Ayn Rand once observed that "you will know your society is doomed when the productive have to ask permission from the unproductive in order to produce."
Should we yet begin to worry about our imminent demise? Perhaps Auckland Mayor and talkback curmudgeon John Banks ('Banksy,' to the 'Kiwi Battlers from Struggle Street' he once held court to on his radio show) will step in and fix things in Auckland City.
Not likely! Despite pre-election promises, 'Banksy' has not lifted a finger since he became Mayor to stem the flow of property rights violations emanating from his council's 'planning technicians.' This isn't perhaps surprising as he was an enthusiastic part of the National Government that enacted the Resource Management Act. Why would he overturn an act of fascism that the RMA has now empowered?
Some might well object to the characterisation of district planning under the RMA as 'fascist.' But consider this: under communist government, private property is nationalised and becomes the property of the state; under a fascist government however, individuals may still own property but the use of property is dictated by the state. Which scenario do you think best describes the current situation in this country?
* Stephen Berry is finance spokesman for the Libertarianz.
Comment by STEPHEN BERRY*