Old Right v. Progressive Left in Horowhenua
From The Left in Levin, by Judith Bryers Holloway
I sometimes reflect on how I would have been quite adamant, when I was young, that no, of course I wouldn’t end up in a country town. What? No shows? Theatre? Good foreign films? Literary events? Witty talk? Politics?
Well, as I’ve found, some country towns have all those things. Levin is mostly a soft-hearted, neighbourly place basking in an equable climate and wonderfully arable soil between the gorgeous Tararua mountain range and the Tasman. Everything is only five minutes away from everything else. There are about 300 community groups, clubs and organisations.
We have a good little cinema/café, two thriving amateur theatrical organisations,lots of music groups, arts and pottery clubs, and a fantastic library.
And we sure have Politics with a capital P. Actually it’s a Right versus Left divide.
Te Takere library — a hub of learning, displaying and entertaining — was set up with the enthusiasm, energy and great ideas of some brilliant women.
But about half-way through last year, the then-Mayor, Brendon Duffy, aided by his Chief Executive, David Clapperton, decided that the money raised (mainly by the community and with grants from charities – around $3m, I understand) to run Te Takere should be taken into the coffers of the Horowhenua District Council.
So the women (one highly decorated for her innovation) who ran the show were sacked, all the librarians were given notice (some left, outraged and hurt) and without any apology, the Te Takere Trust was no more.
A shattering and disgraceful event
This shattering and disgraceful event still rankles with most Horowhenua residents and ratepayers – especially people who love reading and thinking (of which there are many in Levin – Te Takere is always full of citizens and groups doing their own thing).
Last year, before the Local Body elections, the HDC, probably because they were in debt, decided they were going to sell off our attractive, well-maintained Pensioner flats and houses (115 of them, in Levin, Foxton and Shannon). There was an immediate angry reaction from the majority of Horowhenua ratepayers. Why do away with such an asset?
A new face in town, Michael Feyen, stood for the Mayoralty and his main campaign was focused against this sale.
He beat the old mayor and the old guard councillors who were, and still are, outraged. They do their best to frustrate Feyen at every turn. He was not allowed to choose his own Deputy-Mayor, he still has no Personal Assistant! He is constantly insulted by most of the nine councillors who served under Duffy.
Those nine, deliberately excluding our new mayor and Councillor Ross Campbell, have pushed ahead with their agenda to sell the pensioner housing and a block of land which is waiting for further community housing.
They have had a public-excluded meeting to tie up the sale of this suite of houses for around $5m. This works out at an average price per unit of $45,000. Hullo?
Mayor Feyen, if you please, is not allowed to freely examine the books. Nor is anyone else – except, possibly, the nine Duffy-loyal councillors and the CE. What the heck are they hiding?
Is it any wonder the vast majority of Horowhenua residents are upset and highly suspicious of this ‘fire sale’ and wishing to know why it is to an outside wealthy developer (and not to a ‘community housing provider’ as the Council was claiming) and why a Catholic group called something like ‘Compassion Housing’ (sorry to be vague but we’re not ALLOWED to know!) is being brought in by the developer to ‘look after’ the tenants.
Again – hullo!? Don’t we already have a myriad of organisations who look after people with health needs to do with ageing and poverty – paid for by central government through District Health Boards? A few names that I happen to know of: Enliven, Access, Support Links.
How does selling this important asset cheaply to an outside private developer help Horowhenua?
As most people remark: ‘Looks like land-banking, eh?’
But subsidiary questions are : Banking for whom? What’s in it for the Horowhenua community? What’s really going on here?
I wrote a short poem about it. Maybe someone could put it to music…
Some wolves in nuns’ clothing
Loped into the fold.
“Our mission,’ they bayed,
“is to care for the old.
We’ll store those straw houses –
Safe- in our vault.
If their value increases,
It’s hardly our fault.
We’ve agreed: for twelve years
They won’t be sold.
But straw, so they say,
Can be spun into gold.”