Encroachment review awakes a sleeping dog

In this city many homeowners are using bits of land that they don't own but are treating them as effectively part of their property. It's all quite legal. These are called encroachments, and generally they have been signed off by the city council. Sometimes the people allowed an encroachment are paying a fee for the privilege; others are getting the encroachment for nothing. I have got a planter box at my front gate which is on council land, but I got a licence with the title of the house. Others have car pads, or garages or play areas.So what's the big deal? The bits of land in question are typically small bits that the council owns and can't use for any other purpose. They are too small, too steep, too inaccessible, are oddly shaped or just plain useless - except to the people who are living adjacent to them and find them useful.The big deal is that the council decided to explore whether it could get in some more revenue from the encroachment licences. It currently gets $1.8million a year, but getting more seemed possible to the council officers. So a "consultation document" was issued, and that stirred up the proverbial sleeping dog.Last week the council was hearing submissions on the document and there was a long line of submitters in opposition. Virtually no one liked the document, although the idea of paying a licence is not in itself opposed. One of the questions asked was whether there should be a uniform charge (some many dollars per square metre, for example) or whether there should be differential charges - a higher rate in Oriental Bay than Makara. The principles of any policy about encroachments are not easy to argue. Most submitters were happy about paying a fee as long as it wasn't too much.Others said that they would quit their encroachment if the fee was too high. Many said that while they benefitted, they were also doing the council a favour by maintaining the land, particularly if this were a streetscape.Some said that they would buy the land in question if it were easy to do so. Apparently it's not, and the council has asked the government to change the legislation to make it easier. So far it hasn't.And there were also the people who were in effect captive. One couple lived in an apartment in a block where all the apartments had a balcony. They paid an annual encroachment fee because it went over a street, but as the apartment faced south, they rarely used it. Unlike bits of land, the couple can't return the balcony and would have to pay whatever charge the council choose to impose, which hardily seemed fair to them. Listening to the submitters it was an interesting and timely reminder that what started as a  simple piece of revenue gathering has very quickly turned into a minefield of torturous detail.