The humble berm - in case you don't know what I'm talking about, it's that little innocuous patch of land between your house and the road.
Even though it's owned by the council, many of us have a sense of ownership over this stretch of earth, as it's up to us to keep it neat and tidy, and give it a mow once in a while.
Brent Lambert was all for that. He loves everything to look just so. He lives on one of the prettiest streets in New Plymouth, and his property and land are his pride and joy. His house looks picture perfect, and he built four AirBnB units on the property he owns next to it, to a very high spec.
New Plymouth District Council said he had to put a car parking space in front of the units on his land. He did that, but wasn’t happy with having continuous concrete right onto the pavement, so he put in a long planter box to separate the two and add some lovely looking greenery.
Knowing he was doing work on the property, the Council took a look. They were happy with the car parking space. They were happy with the smooth concrete footpath he’d improved at his own expense. But, as pretty as it looked, they didn’t like the planter in between the two, because it encroached on the berm.
They asked Brent to remove it, saying it was taking up 60cm of the footpath. You have to see this to get an idea, but it doesn't look like it encroaches on the footpath. It looks like it’s in line with many other properties, in fact, it takes up less room than the hedges of some other houses on the same road.
Brent refused to get rid of it, so the Council said he needed to pay a $300 fee for an application license. He paid up thinking that would be the end of it. But instead they then said he needed to pay between $100-$200 a year to keep it. Brent wasn’t too fussed about the money, but was fuming about the principle.
Their reasoning at first was that a mobility scooter and a pedestrian couldn’t use the footpath at the same time outside his property. They can. We put it to the test to prove it. And anyway, if it was all about health and safety, does it suddenly become safe just because he pays a yearly fee? It didn’t make sense to Brent. Especially as the Council said the yearly fee was because it was a commercial property. He may have AirBnB on his property, but the rates he pays are residential. So he believes they’re choosing the category to suit their needs.
The other frustration is that many other properties on the street encroach onto the berm more than Brent’s. We measured them to check, and it was true. Yet, the Council aren’t chasing them down to pay any application fee (which is payable by both residential and commercial encroachers).
Despite this, the NPDC says it "aims to take a consistent approach across the district, however, the issue of people's property encroaching into the road reserve is an ongoing one. We would urge people to work with us and either voluntarily remove items that encroach into the road reserve or apply for an encroachment licence. NPDC's approach is about protecting our district's public spaces and making sure they remain available for everyone to use. "
The whole thing has left Brent feeling very annoyed. All his neighbours are happy with how nice the planter looks and think the Council is being ridiculous. At present, it’s a stand-off. The Council says he has to pay, or they’ll take the planter away. It may yet come to that, as right now, Brent is standing his ground on principle and refusing to pay. He argues that if it’s not causing any problems, or endangering the public, what’s the issue?