Wednesday 14 August 2019

Mixing up the heroes and villains - UPDATED

** Note update at the end of the post; original post follows unamended. **

Sometimes, it feels like media is in a bizarro world, where the good guys are the bad guys and vice versa. 

Over at Newsroom, the influence of developers in local politics is a worry:
More importantly, according to Simon Chapple, the director of Victoria University’s Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, the claim that property developers are just amplifying the voices of people they agree with doesn’t stack up. “You can rule out ideology, because they’re donating to everyone.”

Chapple isn’t overly worried about shady deals being negotiated in smoke-filled backrooms of the Wellington Club. Instead he believes that, “The money isn’t buying a specific decision. It’s building a relationship - one where your interests are mutually coinciding.”

When Chapple first heard the numbers, he laughed and launched into an anecdote. “It was 2004. The place next door was an old industrial site, and it was bought up by Craig Stewart [a major Wellington developer]. He decided to bowl over the building and build 20 townhouses.” Chapple reached out to the local community to try fight it. “I remember, my neighbour worked for the Council. And when I told her Stewart’s name, she lit up. ‘Oh, what a nice man! He brings us bottles of wine every Christmas’.” Chapple’s point is that donations and gifts serve the same purpose: to build sympathy and support from people with power.
How is it that the ones trying to block new housing get cast as heroes while the developers trying to build new houses are the villains?

Just imagine how bad it would have been if, in 2004, developers had been able to convince even more local body politicians that building houses is kinda okay.


Simon Chapple provides some context on that particular case, telling me that the site was contaminated with PCBs but that it took High Court action before the site was tested, due to cozy relations between the developer and council. At High Court, they presented an affidavit from a former employee of the factory that PCB drums had been left upside down to drain in the clay. The action then forced site remediation.

So in this particular case, there was no blocking of a development - there was instead a forcing of what should have been done in the first place, and what might have been done without action had the former employee come forward prior to anything going to court. It's hard to see Chapple as any kind of villain in this account. I wish the story had provided context that the fight was not to prevent there from being townhouses, but to remedy a toxic waste problem - but I should have checked up on that before posting.

Meanwhile: Sir Peter Jackson is funding Andy Foster's mayoral campaign; Andy opposes the Shelly Bay development.

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