Everyone I know seems to have a story about the frustrations of dealing with council bureaucracies. Try to build a simple garage to keep your car out of the weather, and you’re bombarded with engineering requirements more appropriate to the construction of a nuclear reactor.
Apply for consent to build a standard house – which these days requires submitting hundreds of pages of documents – and you can expect to wait the full 20 working days allowed before getting a response, only then to be told that you’ve overlooked some minor technical detail and will have to put your builder off until it’s been rectified.Seek permission to launch a modest coffee trailer to cater to passers-by on a popular walkway, and prepare yourself to be treated as if you’re proposing an aluminium smelter in a national park.
On no account, in any of the above circumstances, should you expect constructive advice as to how you might overcome the obstacles in your path. Council functionaries exist to tell you what you can’t do, not to make helpful suggestions.My own council has been co-operative in my very limited dealings with it, but I know plenty of people who tear their hair out with chagrin at having to jump through endless regulatory hoops.
Politicians must hear such complaints all the time, yet seem either powerless or unwilling to act. Councillors must get an earful too, but the rule-bound bureaucrats always prevail. That’s where the real power resides.The standard explanation, of course, is that catastrophes such as leaky buildings and slipshod construction standards exposed by the Christchurch earthquakes have forced councils to be more diligent. The exquisite irony is that these were the results of councils’ own failings, yet the hapless citizen ends up carrying the can.