Hard News by Russell Brown

That bloke

Was that the sound of John Tamihere believing his own hype? In yesterday's Checkpoint interview, Tamihere reacted quite oddly to a fairly benign invitation from Mary Wilson to undertake that he would not in future say one thing and do another.

"I wish it was as simple as that …" he ventured. Then: "I've never made out that my name is JC, it's JT," and "Are you asking for some sort of test or standard?" and "the judgement is over to the Kiwi community," and finally, after Wilson had patiently put the question for the fourth time, "I will use my best endeavours and try as hard as I can to be a good Kiwi bloke."

Eh? It was really hard to understand why Tamihere should have been so evasive over the question, when a simple promise to do better would actually have seen off the major outstanding matter relating to his payout from the Waiparera Trust: the fact that he said during an election campaign that he would not accept the $195,000, and then quietly changed his mind afterwards.

I actually think that the payment was not unwarranted, given his work in rescuing the trust from oblivion, and I don't even think his rash statement that he would not accept it actually had any significant impact on voter attitudes, especially not in his electorate. So why not just say that he has learned his lesson and get on with it?

Labour was certainly looking to move on at some speed yesterday. Although Rodney Hide inevitably begged to differ, and David Farrar raised questions here and here, there was easily enough in the report from Douglas White QC for the government to go out and trumpet that Tamihere had been cleared. The flurry of allegations in and around the original story broken by 3 News' Duncan Garner actually made that job easier: the long list of debunked allegations looks quite impressive. It is not an exageration to say that Tamihere was subjected to a smear campaign by his enemies - some of whom, of course, he once smeared himself.

But there are unresolved tax matters - and, of course, the Serious Fraud Office inquiry, which will, as is the wont of the SFO, take forever to complete. The Prime Minister knows what she's doing in - at the same time as she loudly defends his reputation - postponing his return to Cabinet until after next year's election.

More good stuff comes in on the speedway issue. Economist Stuart Marshall sees the issue as "a simple case of someone stealing from another - in this case a transfer of enjoyment, for no compensation":

If the speedway has to go then fans of the speedway will sustain a loss of enjoyment and the residents have a gain in enjoyment. But they won't pay for it.

The residents had a value discount in the cost of their house due to their original loss of enjoyment. If the speedway was to be started now it would be utterly necessary for the fans (or promoter or whathaveyou) to compensate the residents. That would be equitable.

What makes it a difficult issue now is that the theft is spread across a wide pool of people (the people who attend the speedway and residents bothered by the noise) and that it isn't direct monetary theft. Situations of a few people on each side with cost/damages in monetary terms are simple to conceive of. The speedway issue is a touch trickier to identify, but not impossible.

In simple economic thinking, if the residents want it altered or moved, then they should compensate those who utilise the speedway.

If the issue was being equitably considered, then the residents should not be getting something "for free" (as my Grandfather would put it). If the speedway fans' property rights were being equitably considered then the residents would have to pay for their loss of enjoyment. That may make them see it as being much easier to erect noise deflectors/barriers around the fenceline, at their cost, rather than track down those their action impedes and adequately compensate them. (I will supply my contact details if they are indeed honourably seeking to compensate for their stealing).

As for the heritage issue, it is important who was there first, the fundamental property right is set by the "discoverers", the first people there (such as the rights of Maori to the foreshore and god how did I get that into this debate?).

It frustrates the crap out of me that in other issues there is an unseemingly swift and often misguided rush to talk about issues in terms of compensation, but in this one it has stooped to a class, cultural or political lobby issue, of which it is none of.

It is a simple compensation issue. If the residents are not prepared to pay for what they get, then why should they get it?

But perhaps that the residents are paying for what they get in the form of local body rates, the payment of which implies certain rights and protections. Even some despicable Parnell type who moved in two years ago could justifiably claim to have done so on the assumption that the agreement on noise levels between the speedway promoters and the council actually meant something.

The problem for the speedway promoters isn't that they are being shut down, but that they have been held to an agreement they freely made. In what sense are the residents financially liable for the promoters' failure to honour their agreement? Rudman takes this view today:

Let’s get it clear, it’s not the locals who have caused the crisis. It’s Auckland City Council as both landlord and regulator of the venue, speedway promoter Dave Stewart, and a geriatric legal system that takes forever to creak into action.

For a decade, Auckland City has failed to police or enforce the noise limits for speedway written into its district plan.

Similarly, Mr Stewart and his predecessors, who helped write the rules after negotiations with neighbours and the council in 1994, have blatantly ignored them.

As for the residents, far from sneaking in with last-minute, spoiler legal action on the eve of this speedway season, they applied for an enforcement order back in May after years of ignored complaints to the council.

They had hoped, notes Judge Craig Thompson, the matter would have been resolved before the resumption of speedway last month. "Regrettably," said the judge, the May application got bogged down in the court system, leading to this month’s request for an interim enforcement order.

On Monday night, Mr Stewart said the district plan noise limit of 85 decibels at the boundary was "unreasonable" and that speedway could not operate successfully under those conditions. Why, then, did he sign a contract two years ago for a six-year lease to run the speedway knowing he would be bound by this restriction?

And why, just a few weeks ago, did he sign the annual Western Springs Stadium Noise Management Plan which incorporated this restriction, and declared in the opening paragraph that "it is our policy to comply with all applicable noise requirements and legislation"?

Robert Harvey was also in touch:

Note with approval your point that the dB scale is logarithmic and therefore a few dB make a huge difference, 6dB being a doubling of sound pressure levels.

However no-one seems to have addressed that what is being measured is filtered noise, to the dBA scale, which emphasises speech frequencies and rolls off below 1kHz, so that at 100Hz it's about 20dB down.

The theory is that this reflects the response of the human ear. In practice it overlooks the carrying power of lower frequencies, which are far less absorbed by distance, reflection or passage through walls than mid and bass freqs. With the result that these sounds travel very much farther than the highs and affect a correspondingly greater audience, and as well leaves them with few means of mitigation or avoidance. Result is found in transmission through several floors in new blocks of flats. Speedway is one of several such concerns.

Ben Simpson has a personal solution:

For years I have lived in noisy flats where parties go on till all hours despite the fact I have work in the morning. And I've lived in Grey Lynn on Stanmore Road for years, just over the crest from the speedway

I have developed a great technique for dealing with noise that prevents any anxiety. I turn up my stereo until I can't hear anyone else's noise....I get to listen to my music, and I don't have to give a brass wazoo what others are doing. In fact I'm happy that they are having a good time and enjoying themselves. The day I call noise control is the day I am officially an old fart with no sense of fun.

That's my solution close the windows, turn up the stereo and appreciate that others live in this town too. If I wanted peace and quiet I'd go live in Temuka.

It's interesting, really, because I do think noise control regulation is prone to vexatious use, and I might normally have enjoyed a chance to rail against the blandification of Grey Lynn (the bars are full of plonkers in polo shirts, etc.), but I found myself objecting even more to the speedway-promoters-good-residents-bad PR campaign that most of the media seems to have been soaking in. It just isn't that simple.