There is an article in the latest NZ Architects’ magazine arguing that the new government’s house building ambitions will be sabotaged by the local body permitting system, which in the writer’s opinion, has become a regulatory penal system. This has resulted from an overreaction to the leaky home saga, which saw councils bearing the ultimate responsibility. Currently, every application to build is peer reviewed and fine tooth combed to the point of idiocy, with a garden shed being treated the same as a multi storey building. The traffic jam that results and the expense, is giving the system sclerosis. As well, architects are no longer treated as trusted professionals.

I would have to agree. We’ve currently in the process of getting a permit to add a toilet to the museum complex. It’s the simplest of buildings, 2.5m square, and based on the somewhat notorious single men’s huts, which were built by the mining company at the beginning of last century. We employed an architect who understood our historical joke and drew up the plans. Then the problems began. Some unknown person (the council no longer processing  permit applications) began to question everything. Eventually I tracked her down to Christchurch and arranged a meeting.

She’d never been to Blackball, so had no context (Blackball still has open ditches and only a couple of bad footpaths in the whole town).  This could be happening on Mars or central Auckland, it makes no difference. She was insisting on brand names and model numbers for every fitting and nothing the architect came up with was accepted. We also needed to tar-seal the carpark (something we can’t afford to do), yet, previously, the hard metal surface that a local gravel mix produces had been judged compliant for the approach to our other wheelchair ramps. I got one concession out of her, that the council departmental head had ultimate authority.

So we went to see him and after an hour of debate got a concession: as long as we concreted a pad for a disabled person to unload, that would do. We inspected the council’s toilets and noted the brand name, It would seem madness if they rejected the product they themselves use.

I was struck by the fact that each of these dialogues had a psycho analytic quality, with obvious transference occurring and a moment of crisis, after which a resolution could begin to occur. And this is of course, the problem with  command systems. Individual psychology energises the system and childhood patterns inevitably come into play. This patterning is more widely coloured with psychological energy as peer groups with their horizontal and vertical power plays amplify the syndrome. Anyone who spent time in the old USSR would have experienced this phenomenon in a sometimes  extreme way, There was a story of a visitor to Russia who had a coat with a fur collar. When they came to leave, the official cut off the collar because you weren’t allowed to take fur out of the country.

In contrast, I remember in the 1980s the possibility of  neighbourhoods in Wellington having the ability to write and help administer their own town plans, in order to keep local characteristics. Since then, we’ve moved across the wall to the USSR system.

This is of course, the argument of anarchism, that the local should have control. For at the local level, the psychology can be confronted and worked around. We know Jack can be a bit uptight and bossy but he hasn’t got any greater authority than Jill or Bob or Edith, so it can be sorted. We see this on the marae.

Eventually we’ll be able to build the toilet, but after a delay of six months and an additional cost of about 20%, so the article in the architect’s magazine was right; this could be the undoing of the Labour-led government’s housing initiative. Homelessness, home ownership as a privilege and inequality will continue.