29 Jul 2016

'We don't raise people who are that thick'

11:44 pm on 29 July 2016

If you've ever been to the picturesque Northland town of Mangonui - and its famous fish shop, you've probably strolled down the boardwalk along the waterfront.

The boardwalk is not fenced and could pose a safety threat, John Carter has argued.

The boardwalk is not fenced and could pose a safety threat, John Carter has argued. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

And like thousands of other visitors every year, you probably didn't fall off.

But the Far North District Council is about to spend $200,000 to make sure you don't.

And the locals, at least 400 of them, are not happy about it.

The saga began back in 2008 when the council built an elegantly simple boardwalk beside the harbour, south of the Four Square shop.

Next to the Four Square, in an apartment built out over the water, lives Wayne Brown, who was mayor of the Far North about the time the boardwalk was built.

Its resource consent said it had to have a safety rail.

Far North District Council Mayor John Carter

Far North District Council Mayor John Carter Photo: Supplied

But Mr Brown - and his council - decided this was illogical nonsense.

"There's no fence around the wharf," he argues. "And there's no fence around the rest of the harbour, and there's no fences along the waterfront in Whangarei or Wellington where people walk."

The council led by Mr Brown passed a motion in 2009 boldly proclaiming it did not need a safety barrier on the boardwalk and would not be building one.

Council staff have been fretting about it ever since.

It was not a good look, in their view: in fact it was untenable for a council to be enforcing resource consents while thumbing its nose at the Resource Management Act and the Building Act.

The present council, elected in 2013 and led by John Carter, has endorsed that view.

The Far North mayor said the council had no choice but to comply with the resource consent.

"We have to uphold the law," he told RNZ News this week at a meeting where the council rescinded the decision of the former council not to build a barrier.

"The risk is if someone falls off and hurts themselves or dies, we are liable. It's an offence punishable by jail, actually. I, or my CEO, could be prosecuted."

But the council's decision to build a safety barrier has infuriated many Mangonui people.

More than 400 have signed a petition urging the council to think again.

They said a safety rail would not only spoil the look of the waterfront, but it was simply unnecessary.

Councillor Mate Radich said only one person had ever fallen off and drowned and that was a hapless pub patron, many years ago.

Mangonui hotel is opposite the boardwalk.

Mangonui Hotel is opposite the boardwalk. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

He said Mangonui people thought their town was being targeted by bureaucrats.

Mr Brown agreed. "We had 5000 people at the Mangonui festival this year," he said, "and 26 wineries serving liquor and nobody fell in."

Mr Carter said there might be a way around the impasse. He has suggested a safety net beneath the boardwalk, like the one at Sky Tower to catch anyone who falls off.

The council is running that idea past ministry officials to see if it would meet the requirements of the Building Act.

But Mr Brown said that would create more problems.

"The idea of a horizontal safety net? It'll be interesting to see how you'd get a fish up from that," he said.

"The Mangonui Primary School has fishing days down there regularly on that boardwalk and they are mindful of the safety of their children.

"We don't raise people who are that thick," said the former mayor.

The council now has till the end of September to convince the Northland Regional Council it is making progress on the boardwalk bunfight - or it faces possible prosecution.

The road next to the fish shop is fenced.

The road next to the fish shop is fenced. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

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