Mike Ramsay: Change is gonna come, if we’re patient enough

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Opinion: On December 13, it will be 50 years since the decision to build the new Shotover Bridge was made by the old Ministry of Works.

It was to cost $500,000.

What a pity they didn’t decide to do the Kawarau Falls bridge at the same time.

The Shotover River bridge was the last state highway bridge to be built in the Wakatipu Basin.

Large earthquakes happen with greater frequency.

Half a century later – while a new bridge is being built at Kawarau Falls – we still have the same ad hoc infrastructure policy in place.

Three weeks ago our young local MP, Todd Barclay, opined that he needs a petition to spur the NZ Transport Agency into action.

He wants roadside parking banned between the BP roundabout and the airport and for it to bring forward its five-year plan on making that bit of road four lanes.

The irony here is that Barclay is part of Wellington’s central government.

It is central government that makes the laws that require the authority to do stuff.

But here we are, the government-funded authority’s tail is wagging the government decision-making dog.

When government can’t – or won’t – make the decisions that the community requires, you have to ask yourself, what use are they?

Do we have to wait for the Alpine Fault to fracture before we get any infrastructure action?

Local government suffers from the same malaise.

Prior to the elections local councillor Alexa Forbes told us that there would be a park and ride bus service operating from Frankton, before Christmas.

I begged to differ and offered her a $10 bet that it would never happen. She refused the bet.

As it turned out, I was right. She wasn’t.

councillors are also hamstrung. The Dunedin-based Otago Regional Council makes all our public transport decisions, and they don’t even have an office in town.

Councillors can only cajole, rattle a cage or two, and squeeze a few more dollars from the ratepayers’ purse.

Then there is local body legislation. The Local Government Act (so “generously” given to us by Wellington) is a 314-page document that, inter alia, summarises what councillors can and can’t do.

It is aligned to another 60 pieces of government legislation doing the same thing.

Apart from being a life sinecure of revenue-earning opportunities for the legal fraternity, it also slows progress and makes it very difficult to achieve the changes in our communities from which we all benefit.

We can’t even raise a visitor tax without permission from Wellington, although a fairer mechanism to help fund our visitor infrastructure requirements would be for Wellington to return some of the $200 million a year that they mine in GST from our district.

That way costs are funded equitably across all sectors.

However it’s done, it needs urgency.

With next year’s national elections looming you can be sure a political bribe will be just around the corner.

Let’s hope it’s a big one.

I recently read the council policy on development and financial contributions.

Naively, I had expected to find a concise and erudite summary of where the cash was coming from, and why.

Alas, it was a disjointed and confusing document.

I concluded that a submission was an exercise in futility.

Can the new council please bring some clarity and conciseness to future ratepayer communications?

It seems our endless frustration over roads, parking, public transport, housing, health and education – and how to fund them all – is set to continue.

Our best bet is patience. Preferably an endless supply.

Will our new mayor, Jim Boult, make things happen?

I hope so. But perhaps he’ll find local body politics as alien as Star Trek – where Spock famously opined to James Tiberius Kirk: “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.”

Mike Ramsay is a keen observer of the Wakatipu