Losing the plot

Seldom has the Dunedin City Council been under such sustained opprobrium as at present. Every move seems to bring a torrent of criticism.

While the fiercest and most bitter attacks have come through opposition to the Forsyth Barr Stadium, a series of other matters have also raised ire, protest or disquiet.

Part of what is happening is because of the tone of these times.

Authority and establishment of any ilk are there to be lambasted.

Many in the self-esteem generations, which include the baby boomers, believe they are right and know best, and they will not be told otherwise.

Respect has disintegrated and negative scepticism is the norm.

Such, though, are the current woes of the Dunedin City Council that it needs to look to itself.

For a start, whatever the rights and wrongs of hefty local authority funding for the stadium, its backers, including the council, allowed the opposition on to the front foot through secrecy and lack of leadership.

In rugby parlance, they were forever trying to recover from behind the advantage line.

The parking debacle has followed a different line.

The council, many months ago, did announce its plans, and these received considerable publicity.

It claims "engagement with key stakeholders and community representatives and full consultation" took place and that it responded to public demands.

Why then did the implementation turn out so badly? First, the consultation, as many angry business people attest, did not include actually speaking to those who would be most directly involved.

Second, the plans remained theoretical and distant until their implications were clear.

While the "conversion of some free parking on the fringes" of the central business district does not sound so bad, the actuality of many commuters and shift workers losing their free or cheap parks brought home the reality of the policy.

Consultation wrapped in bureaucratic language does not go to the nub of a matter and it so easily obfuscates.

Ratepayers do not want, or require, the public relations version of a planned policy but rather the cold facts and, most importantly, the bald implications.

In the parking instance, blaming unexpected consequences on some of the problems reflects poorly on the council.

Combine the supposed expertise of staff and consultants with - one would hope - the savvy of councillors, and the result should have been much better.

A handful of councillors, perhaps stung by the parking furore, are wary about the rubbish collection proposals.

They are wise to proceed with care because the extra costs for the frugal and those living alone are large.

The one-size-fits nearly all will not go down well once all its implications sink home, despite the extensive "consultation".

The council's Wall Street mall project is receiving its share of criticism and, whether it likes it or not, the Otago Regional Council's handling of bus timetable changes and the increase in fares spills over into anti-DCC feeling.

Even the Town Hall redevelopment, largely greeted positively, has run into flak over the Moray Pl glass cube.

Proper consultation with Opoho residents over a new road for Lovelock Ave came too late, and a classic symptom of the blinkered approach came when Ken Robertson was cut off by a new fence and track from training his horses on the beach at Ocean View.

The council had followed the rules with notes in letterboxes and public notification but was still unaware Mr Robertson had been using the beach virtually every day for 56 years.

Public trepidation has become more acute, not just by the accumulation of mistakes and misjudgments, but by the attitude to spending.

Despite the financial constraints from stadium costs and the recession, the council seems willing to continue the binge. Handling the costs of one ambitious new project was fine, so one councillor said last week, because it was budgeted for in the long-term plan.

It is not just so-called "naysayers" or the 2000-plus members of the Facebook site "Lost the Plot" who are frustrated and concerned.

Of course, sometimes it does not matter what approach is taken, the process is a convenient scapegoat whenever the outcome is disliked.

The council, nevertheless, could have avoided a degree of the antagonism with clear and decisive leadership, with unambiguous directions and with confidence imparted.

Once, however, trust and goodwill are lost, it is hard to win them back.

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