The politics of Christchurch consents

Confronted with confusion politicians should side with people, not politics.

For weeks no one really knew what the hell the whole Christchurch consent controversy was about. But it was controversy, and that means airtime, so politicians got stuck in. And none of it helped the public.

It’s slowly becoming apparent that accreditation was removed for technical breaches, such as clearing less than 75% of consents within a certain time frame.

But that’s not very sexy politically, and frankly, not that important to whether or not a building can be lived and worked in.

Which is why politicians decided it was easier to wallow in the controversy, not help define and solve the actual problem.

The Housing Minister claimed that when he spoke to people in the Council they didn’t think anything was wrong. He told TVNZ that Council workers were in denial. It was not politically convenient to wonder if they were right. In the same interview he said that the issues were “not severe”. But that did not stop the Government earlier allowing for the possibility that buildings might come down.

The claims of buildings under threat were politically motivated. They relied on the ridiculous assumption that engineers, architects and builders were submitting plans for consent that ignored standards in serious ways.

Fortunately, the ultimate responsibility of being in Government began to take hold. National’s position matured into saying there were only technical deficiencies, not serious ones. Making political capital is not as important as the lives of real people with real buildings just consented or about to be consented.

But by then the damage was done. Those doing the doing for the Christchurch rebuild – the Council, the public and the building industry – were let down by the talkers.

Average-quality politicians embrace political controversy because it is a safe way of getting airtime.

Good politicians would have seen very early that the best way to distinguish themselves, to get airtime, to get support from locals, and to actually do good, was to break through the controversy mire.

A good politician would have called the controversy for what it was; a problem created by systems and processes gurus, not by anything actually wrong with buildings or accuracy of consents granted.    

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