A week ago it looked like the New Plymouth District Council was being run by a bunch of pantywaists.
It was reported (here) to have backed down on plans to remove a hermit from Tapuae Beach, enabling him to keep his million-dollar views for now.
More important, it was reported to have buckled to a surge of public support for the hermit, who goes by the name of Eric Brewer.
His nephew, one Jimo Rangi, delivered a petition to Deputy Mayor Alex Matheson with 737 signatures asking that Brewer be allowed to remain.
Thus a surge of support became more influential on local authorities than the complaints about the hermit’s behaviour from nearby residents, who presumably pay their rates which the hermit – it’s a fair bet – does not.
The New Plymouth District Council issued a written notice to Mr Brewer on March 20 ordering him to remove his belongings from the land by 3pm yesterday or it would be done for him.
The council’s plans to remove him came after complaints were received about his behaviour from nearby residents and the public, but the plans provoked a surge of public support for Mr Brewer.
Yesterday’s 3pm deadline came and went and Mr Brewer and a small gang of supporters were left celebrating when word came the council was not coming, just before 5pm.
In a statement, council chief executive Barbara McKerrow said the council would not be taking immediate action to remove Mr Brewer.
“Immediate” was an important word.
And she did say the council’s obligation to stop his illegal occupation of reserve land remained.
“Our challenge in this situation is to find a balance between responding in a measured way to a significant number of complaints we have received from the public, while at the same time being sensitive to Mr Brewer’s circumstances,” she said.
“The bottom line is that no-one has the right to live on public reserve without approval.
“The public complaints suggest a number of people are afraid to use this part of the beach as a result of Mr Brewer’s behaviour and this has led them to approach us, questioning his legal right to be there.
“It is very unfortunate that some members of the public are reluctant to use this beautiful piece of our coastline.”
When Brewer heard the news of what seemed to be a craven backdown, he joked that the council had other plans for his removal.
“They’re going to change tactics and sneak in in the night.”
He also said:
“Whatever happens, happens; life goes on.”
Not quite right on the first score, but spot on with the second.
Indeed, life goes on, but for Eric it will go on in a new habitat.
Today in an admirably executed dawn raid, the council flexed its muscle and kicked him out of the ramshackle structure in which he resided, which he built out of driftwood and tarpaulin.
The extraordinary thing is that he has lived there for 16 years.
But as the Herald notes here, the structure was on a public reserve, which breached both the Reserves Act 1977 and a New Plymouth District Council bylaw, passed in 2008.
Police were present as contractors began dismantling the structure this morning.
McKerrow reiterated it had been a difficult issue.
“Mr Brewer has his supporters but his occupation of this reserve breached both the Reserves Act and the council’s public places bylaw.
“Our approach has been to ask Mr Brewer to remove his dwelling and belongings, not to ban him from using the beach like any other member of the public.
“Mr Brewer ignored our requests and so we have taken this action. To reiterate, we have not trespassed Mr Brewer from the beach.”
The council gave Brewer the contact details of Housing New Zealand and the Emergency Shelter Trust so he could arrange accommodation.
More usefully, they might have found him a cave, preferably far, far away from other park or beach users where he can be a hermit and eschew the trappings of civil society to his heart’s content.