Marvellous Mugs

It’s not easy being green. Especially if you’re green space on prime coastal land.

Everyone wants a piece of your grass. Which is why I’m loving the fact that the economy seems to have derailed and developers are taking a hiding.

We can all head back to our favourite summer haunts; those coastal communities that we pine for when we’re in dingy apartments overseas, knowing we might get to appreciate them for a few more summers. Until credit becomes cheap again and we get swamped with another round of unsustainable coastal developments with the inevitable sewerage problems that ratepayers have to fork out for 10 years down the track. By which time the developers will have gone bust and be living in Queensland, where, ironically the same kind of developments have been banned for the last 20 years because of the environmental mayhem they engender.

We take it for granted that we will always have access to our stunning coasts, not realising how tenuous our collective hold on that access is.

A few years ago I landed in Buenos Aires to start a new job. Armed with a geographical map I hit the streets and headed for the river to get a look at what wildlife I’d be sharing the city with. What I didn’t know was that I would need a socio-economic map to reach the water. I walked forever, rebuffed by armed guards denying me access to the walled sanctuaries of gated communities that lined the river. Prime land belonged to the rich and my geographical map was useless in terms of navigating the city. Apparently, an unhealthy relationship between developers and local councils had resulted in huge chunks of land (some of it publicly owned) being sold and gated off from the community. But hey – that’s South America and this is a whole world away. Isn’t it? Later, when the economy went into a nosedive, 5 story hulks of rusting metal were left creaking in the wind as developers walked away. Sound familiar?

When the market runs hot all there is between our precious coast and the naked avarice of developers is the protests of local iwi and a few hardcore environmentalists. These ‘concerned citizens’ are often left to argue the toss with the minions of the developers (the surveyors, lawyers and full-time PR boys) who have money and a whole lot of time on their side. That is their job.

It’s the developers job to either seduce or play bulrush with council bodies (sometimes in publicly excluded meetings), then play trivial pursuit in the courts to define the limits of the Resource Management Act.

Anyone doubting their motives is usually working two jobs and has to get the kids fed before sitting down to wrestle with the Public Works Act. For free. Unlike developers, their politics is not intrinsically linked to their business concerns or even their day jobs.

Theoretically it’s the job of council to protect our coasts but in a hot property market it seems this job is given hobby status and is handed to retired nature enthusiasts.

If there is one silver lining to the recession it’s that we’re all going to get a breather from rabid development – a chance to re-group and ask ourselves what we really want our country to look like in 10 or 100 years time.

Chesterton, in his ‘Songs of Education’ lamented the loss of the village green over 100 years ago in England. He wrote; “The people they left the land, the land, but they went on working hard;
And the village green that had got mislaid, turned up in the squire's back-yard:
But twenty men of us all got work on a bit of his motor car;
And we all became, with the world's acclaim,
The marvellous mugs we are.”

While we might be smarting from the loss of work, not on his motorcar but perhaps in his latest housing development – it may be preferrable to be able to go for a swim with our families at our favourite beach this Christmas than to get a handshake and the last cheque and have the gates to that beach locked to us forever.

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