Skip to Content
00:00 of 00:00

Sir Brian George Conway Elwood, CBE, JP, (born 5 April 1933) is a former New Zealand lawyer, politician, and public servant. He served as mayor of Palmerston North from 1971 to 1985, and was the Chief Ombudsman of New Zealand from December 1994 to June 2003. In the latter role, he was responsible for investigating complaints against central and local government agencies, including Ministers of the Crown.

Interview of Brian Elwood as Mayor of Palmerston North, conducted by Ian Matheson on 2 May 1985. Interview length: 1 hour, 36 minutes and 55 seconds.

Identification

Object type
Audio
Digitisation ID
2017Au_PNCC1-20-1_021009
Title
Oral Interview - Brian Elwood
Relation
Ian Matheson City Archives, PNCC Series 1/20/1
Format
Other
Held In
PNCC Archives
Archive
Oral Interviews

Related items

Oral Interview - Brian Elwood
Grant Smith, Mayor of Palmerston North
Palmerston North City Council and Heads of Department
Palmerston North City Council and Heads of Department
Special Council Meeting to Commemorate 100 Years of Municipal Local Government
Special Council Meeting to Commemorate 100 Years of Municipal Local Government
Special Council Meeting to Commemorate 100 Years of Municipal Local Government
Special Council Meeting to Commemorate 100 Years of Municipal Local Government
Special Council Meeting to Commemorate 100 Years of Municipal Local Government
Special Council Meeting to Commemorate 100 Years of Municipal Local Government
Special Council Meeting to Commemorate 100 Years of Municipal Local Government
Special Council Meeting to Commemorate 100 Years of Municipal Local Government

Creation

Created By
Date
May 2, 1985

Object rights

Credit Line
Ian Matheson City Archives

Taxonomy

Tags
local government,
local politics,
mayor,
palmerston north,
palmerston north city council,
Community Tags

Report a problem

Related items

Oral Interview - Brian Elwood
Grant Smith, Mayor of Palmerston North
Palmerston North City Council and Heads of Department
Palmerston North City Council and Heads of Department
Special Council Meeting to Commemorate 100 Years of Municipal Local Government
Special Council Meeting to Commemorate 100 Years of Municipal Local Government
Special Council Meeting to Commemorate 100 Years of Municipal Local Government
Special Council Meeting to Commemorate 100 Years of Municipal Local Government
Special Council Meeting to Commemorate 100 Years of Municipal Local Government
Special Council Meeting to Commemorate 100 Years of Municipal Local Government
Special Council Meeting to Commemorate 100 Years of Municipal Local Government
Special Council Meeting to Commemorate 100 Years of Municipal Local Government

Brian Elwood
Mayor of Palmerston North: 1971 – 1985
Interview 2 May 1985

Interviewee: Brian Elwood
Interviewer: Ian Matheson
Transcriber: Leanne Hickman
Contents
Changes in Palmerston North during the last 20 to 25 years. 2
Economic Changes in the last 20 years. 3
Social Changes in recent years. 4
Vision for Palmerston North as Mayor in 1971. 7
Creation of the Civic Centre. 8
Debate surrounding the Civic Centre. 10
Labour vs National councillors. 12
Councillor Mihaere’s role. 14
Relationship with the news media particularly the Manawatu Evening Standard. 15
Relationships between councillors and staff. 17
George Hogg and his successors as City Engineer. 18
City Planners. 19
Palmerston North City Corporation. 20
Relationships with councillors. 22
Thoughts on the ward system. 24
Local government involvement at a national level. 25
Vision for local government in New Zealand. 26
Manawatu United Council. 26
Chairman of the Local Government Commission. 28
Personal origins in Palmerston North. 29

Changes in Palmerston North during the last 20 to 25 years.

IM: This is Ian Matheson, Records and Archives Manager talking to Mr Brian Elwood, Mayor of Palmerston North on the 2nd of May 1985. Technical direction by Graham Slater of the Engineers Department. Mr Elwood, to start this interview could you give me your opinions on the changes that have occurred in Palmerston North during the last 20 to 25 years.
BE: The changes have been dramatic, turning the city of Palmerston North from a rural service town to a fully-fledged university city, such that we now have one in ten of our population as a full-time university student at Massey University. The physical changes have taken place within the central city area based on the Square and in the perimeters of the city pushing the residential areas in particular, right out to the perimeter of the authorised boundaries of the city. The Square has probably seen the most dramatic change. The Square is probably the most important single geographic feature for Palmerston North since its inception. The Manawatu River may one day replace the Square as the major amenity but once the river is developed as a recreational facility I think the focus will again turn back to the Square. The Square because of its unique size but perhaps more importantly for the fact that it has become a central city park which will give focus to the Palmerston North of the future as it gives a focus today in terms of civic pride. The Square was probably of its current size as an historical accident relating somewhat to the nature of the soil and the original necessity of circumventing swamp. In some ways it was too large, it was a series of gardens; it was dissected by many roads; it was traversed by a railway line travelling from Wellington to Auckland. What we needed to do was to convince the public that what we knew was their Square should be changed to make it a more attractive environment and therefore a better focus for people. And so we set about, after some considerable public education, to create a central city park by digging up roads, putting in grass, removing inappropriate trees and placing in position new trees which would develop into magnificent specimens over a period of years.

Economic Changes in the last 20 years.

IM: How about the economic changes that have taken place in the last 20 years?
BE: Well again we see the results in 1985 of a recognition that Palmerston North had a very central location, central to the total New Zealand market place. In fact if you look at transportation costs today, to distribute a given product to the whole of New Zealand, then one of the least cost areas for distribution is Palmerston North. In other words, you can distribute north and south at reasonable cost per product item, using road, rail or even air. That centrality of location has been recognised by a number of companies that have established manufacturing facilities in the city. I don’t think at this stage the real potential has been realised and that in the future as distribution costs rise, the location of national distribution centres, in, or close to Palmerston North will continue to expand. The economic strength of the city is moving away from dependence upon agricultural servicing, into an association with the higher technological era, which we are now witnessing and of which we are part. And I believe this will be the future strength of Palmerston North: industry very closely allied with the Massey University and the results of research which the university undertakes in very practical areas such as Food Technology, Animal Science and Animal Husbandry, and in Marketing. And so, the university and the city will have a very close association to develop. Perhaps it is interesting to record and recall the association between the university and the city. The city provided the initial land upon which the Massey Agricultural College was located, and then the city gave to the government the land where a branch University of Victoria was located where the Teacher’s College is now located. The city’s investment in education was excellent. I don’t think anyone probably foresaw the extent to which it would be converted into economic strength, but I believe we’re on the verge now of an economic boom based upon our association with the university. I’ve worked very hard during the past 14 years to foster the town/gown relationships in a quiet way. I did that because what I saw happening in the early 1970s was new university being established with first-class amenities with a city with no amenities at all for people to use. The risk was the citizens of Palmerston North would become envious, indeed jealous, of the new university facilities compared with the non-existent or rundown city amenities. So therefore, part of my pressure to quickly put in place people-related amenities in Palmerston North was associated with this realisation that the city would have to develop in harmony with the university for fear that there would be a major conflict between the intellectual side of our community life and the general side of our community life. I can say at this point in time, 1985, 15 years later, the relationship between university and city is harmonious and excellent to the point where at my last university council meeting, I was able to support the concept that the city and the university should work together to establish a new large convention venue in which larger conferences, especially those based upon university-related activities could be held. I think the convention industry that I’ve been able to help get established in Palmerston North was pitched to the conference of under 500 delegates. There is an enormous market developing for conferences 500 to 1500 participants and clearly the city should do that development in harmony with the university. Either on city land, and I identify the railway land between Pitt Street and Cook Street or on the university campus. And I believe the city should contribute substantial funds to develop a big convention venue in conjunction with the university. It's an enormous potential multiplier in terms of circulating expenditure dollars and creating employment for Palmerstonians.
Social Changes in recent years.

IM: The social changes that have occurred in Palmerston North in recent years

BE: Quite dramatic. I think we’ve seen a growth in Polynesian people, including Maori population, not a cohesive group in some ways, but harmoniously fitting in with the community, probably because there’s no dominant tribal connection with the city. There seems to have been some disunity in terms of who was entitled to speak on behalf of the various tribes, but overall the relationship between the Polynesian and Maori people in our city with the citizens generally has been good. I would say very good. Occasionally there’s been a participation in the life of the community at the councillor level. I recall Sam Mihaere vividly as a very good contributor, and now we have Waana Davis who has made a very tentative start in her role as a councillor. I hope she’s able to expand her sense of involvement and therefore her input into the work of cementing cross-cultural relationships in Palmerston North.
But perhaps the most significant social change is the lessening dominance of key families. When I was a young boy in Palmerston North, I was almost in fear of the dominant families. I’d been led to the view by my grandparents who resided just opposite Massey University and had a large orchard. That orchard is now part of the DSIR complex and they tended to refer to the names of the Munroes, and the Nathans, and the Nashes, and the Hopwoods, and the Collinsons, and the Waldegraves, and people of that nature as really being Palmerston North. And when I came back to Palmerston North as a young lawyer in the late 1950s, I wondered whether people like myself who didn’t belong to one of the key families would ever be able to make my way in the city. I soon found out that the so-called ‘historical families’ had dissipated their energies and indeed some of their financial resources and no longer held the sway that they used to have in Palmerston North. That left a vacuum, almost a situation where the city was leaderless because no one seemed to have a commitment to the place. The families had taken their money away from Palmerston North, it invested outside of Palmerston North, had no confidence in Palmerston North, and indeed in most cases were not prepared to live here. And so into this leaderless vacuum came a young fellow like myself who for other reasons saw an enormous unfulfilled potential in Palmerston North and again I think I’ve got to, in looking back, say it was because Palmerston North was leaderless that an opportunity arose for someone like myself with a vision prepared to try and put that vision into place and create a modern city out of a rural service town where amenities for people became a dominant priority. There was little point relying on an artificially generated history where people could look about themselves and say: ‘Just what is there to do in a place like Palmerston North?’ And so I found in the late 1950s a city and its citizens who were envious of other parts of New Zealand. When I went overseas in 1965 to negotiate contracts for the supply of components for motor vehicles with my friend Phil Andrews – he had invited me to be a director of his company Motor Lines Ltd – and we negotiated contracts in Italy and in England and in Czechoslovakia. And I saw for the first time the old cities of Italy and England and Europe and came to the view that such things as the blue sky and the green grass and the clean air and the open space were really assets, they were not liabilities as I had thought in terms of my early upbringing in Palmerston North. And it was a matter of teaching others that these simple things were assets, developing them and having people enjoy what could be created.
So from an enormously fast expanding legal practice I decided at the young age of 35 to basically give it away and to pursue an objective to see if I couldn’t turn Palmerston North into a university city. The raw materials were there, it was a matter of convincing other people and then getting the resources put together that would enable the infrastructure that was so necessary for a university city to be put in place. So that was the challenge I set myself, that was the vision I had. And fortunately along the way, I was able to bring around me people who believed in my vision. My first avenue to sell the idea was through the Public Relations Organisation. I joined that organisation as a committee member and I found the Public Relations Organisation more of a political organisation than the City Council and more an avenue through which ideas could be publicly argued and developed. It’s interesting to see the way the Public Relations Organisation has moved away from being a political animal to now a very quiet unobtrusive organisation getting on with it’s role of providing information. But in the 1960s, the Public Relations Organisation was of more political significance in terms of the potential of Palmerston North than was the City Council as I saw it as an outsider.
In those days the City Council was preoccupied with a great deal of trivia as an administrative unit and with the performance of prima donna councillors who were enjoying the debating chamber environment rather than looking for a broad perspective or plan for what Palmerston North could become. And so I draw a major distinction between the 1960s and the 1970s. The prima donnas were the Kellihers and the Sextons and the Waldings and the De Cleenes. The debates were entertaining and they were good debaters and the media loved it because they were very personalised and the whole issue of confrontation between individuals was paramount, but the issues were subjugated to the real issues the city should have been addressing. I draw another distinction between the councils of the 1960s and the 1970s, in the 1960s the key council officers Peter Hall and George Hogg were probably more dominant in terms of the council organisation than were the councillors. In the 1970s, the council officers became more professional officers and were quite happy to sit back and see the councillors leading the redevelopment of Palmerston North. So there was a dramatic change between the 1960s and the 1970s and my predecessor Des Black1, who was only in office for three years, found it an enormous burden and after three years vacated office saying it was like a ‘load of concrete’ being taken from his shoulders. Des Black never came to grips with the changes that were taking place in Palmerston North or with the pressures that were upon the mayoral office, especially if you didn’t have an objective or vision which would take some years to implement. It’s not easy to change an administrative structure overnight. You cannot come in and expect it to change tomorrow. And I think Des Black probably found that a great sense of frustration after picking up the reigns from an administration of the Gilbert Rennie2 years that was very much a social slow-moving period in the city’s history where there were no real plans, plenty of conflict between individuals, but no clearly defined purpose. I think in retrospect I was lucky to come along at the end of a period of uncertainty where there was clearly a willingness by a small majority to contemplate change and with a capacity to build upon the very basic underground infrastructure that was in position. In some ways I drew the distinction between Wanganui and Palmerston North, Wanganui developed as a city with a great show of wealth on top of the ground and very little under the ground. They’ve got enormous problems at this time trying to put back the basic infrastructure. I think in an historical sense I see myself as lucky to have arrived at a particular time when there was an opportunity to present a different vision but to build upon the sound infrastructure that was in position. And George Hogg3 probably has to get a great deal of credit for that. He was not a popular figure because of the way in which he went about things but I think it was just as well he went about it in the way that he did, in effect to bulldoze into place the key decisions on sewerage and water upon – or without which no city can develop.
Vision for Palmerston North as Mayor in 1971.

IM: You’ve mentioned the word ‘vision’ several times, can you say in a few words exactly what your vision was in 1971 when you stood for mayor.
BE: Yes, it was a matter of turning an old city into a new city. If you looked around Palmerston North and you saw some of the old buildings, their architecture was of a colonial era and a very poor era. Very little of real value in monetary terms had been spent in Palmerston North. There were no really significant areas of outstanding homes in terms of outstanding architecture. Some odd examples but no impact and likewise the buildings had very little impact. They were obviously built down to prices and never with a long-term vision of how the city could develop. It was necessary to build upon the concept that was first given to Palmerston North in the Reynold’s Plan – the so-called Reynold’s Plan. That has largely faded away as the modern Palmerston North has developed, but the Reynold’s Plan was most significant in the sense at least from an outsiders point of view focused on what Palmerston North could become and how it could handle its disadvantages. And the large Square and the wide streets were seen as disadvantages in that they were too large relative to the human scale. So the vision was simply to say that a modern city could be created out of this rather tatty, old-fashioned, uncertain rural service town.
Creation of the Civic Centre.

IM: Now you’ll probably best be remembered as the man who was behind the creation of the Civic Centre, the administration block and the associated Convention Centre. Were those buildings an essential part of the vision?
BE: The creation of a civic centre, yes. The building of the particular buildings not necessarily so. It was most interesting that one of the jobs I did in the early to late 1960s was to be Chairman of the Civic Centre Association. There’s been a Civic Centre Association for a long time without really knowing what it was about. Ultimately that went out of existence because once the City Council took over the concept of developing a city centre or civic centre, this public committee role was largely surpassed. The city needed a point of identification therefore the opportunity arose to use a building to create a focus. Interestingly enough I did not sit on the panel that selected the award-winning design. Something like 27 entries were received in a national competition. I participated in setting the conditions of the national competition, but I was not appointed by the Council to sit on the selection panel. In fact, the selection panel consisted more of professionals in the architectural world and less of city council representatives. I thought the original design a little complicated and would myself have preferred a twin tower concept, a bit like the World Trade Centre in New York on the basis that the city could perhaps afford to build one tower at a time. And the twin tower concept was to me the focal point. Just an ordinary office building for the Council administration would have done nothing for Palmerston North, it would have just been another building. But in the finish I decided, when I assumed office, that I had a divided community on the question of support for the Civic Centre, we were at a point where inflation was about to take off and I came very rapidly to the view that I would need to go out and sell this particular building, to get it underway as quickly as possible to contain escalation but to sell it as a symbol that would signal to the world at large, and to Palmerstonians, that Palmerston North was on the move. The location was important. Not only was the land there, but we needed to counter-balance the pressure that was on Broadway from the Square to Princess Street, that seemed to be the ‘golden mile’. From Fitzherbert Avenue around to the DIC on the Church Street side of the Square, we witnessed decay. Absolutely no confidence, no redevelopment, no expenditure of new development monies, and we could, rather than have a central city focus, we could have a decaying city centre. And so I saw the need to develop an overall plan for the central business district that concentrated development on the Square as a whole, that put a tight control around the spread of development and the desire to bring housing as close to the central city area as possible. I’d read a lot about the decay of central business district in the old cities of the world and I was determined that decay wasn’t going to continue in Palmerston North. I saw decay, I didn’t like what I saw. I knew there was an alternative to decay and so the building of the Civic Centre, the administration building in particular was a sign to the community that the Council at least was committed to seeing the central business district as the focal point of Palmerston North. Not long after, there was a commitment to the development of the Civic Centre. I was able to go out into the board rooms of several major companies in New Zealand and negotiate regional development projects in, and close, to the Square and the first breakthrough came with my being able to interest the National Mutual Life Association in buying the old library building on the corner of the Square and Fitzherbert Avenue. I indicated during the course of those negotiations that I would sacrifice price for a well-designed high-rise building to create another focal point in that segment of the Square. In the finish I got a price for the land higher than the valuers believed the land was worth and of course today we see still a very fine example of a high-rise modern office building that is complementary to the developing sky line of the Square.
Debate surrounding the Civic Centre.

IM: Now there was intense debate at Council level about the creation of the Civic Centre, the loan poll in 1973 and it seems to me that there were significant groupings of councillors for and against the Civic Centre. Would you like to give me some comment about the role of personalities and individuals

BE: Yes, unfortunately personalities played too great a role in that controversy about the Civic Centre. Initially I think the controversy related to design. There were those who could not accept the concept of protruding the building out over the Square gardens – out over the roadway and into the Square gardens. In fact one Square councillor by the name of Patrick Kelliher publicly called me a rapist, that I was raping the Square by supporting the extension of the building into the sacred Square as he saw it. That was highly emotional and was designed to discredit the whole particular concept. The opposition basically focussed around Pat Kelliher who used delaying tactics and in the finish forced a poll. The poll was unsuccessful but marginally so. I developed a little travelling kit and went round night after night speaking to whoever citizens were prepared to stop and listen to me. To talk not so much about the building as bricks and mortar but what the building signified about the future of Palmerston North. In the finish the controversy tended to become almost party political, that there were those who were, in my terms, wrong reasons, sought to destroy me by destroying the Civic Centre. Now that would’ve disappointed me immensely if that had been the result. I would have preferred them to have attacked me and not the Civic Centre, because the Civic Centre meant more to the city than I did. I would only be temporary. The Civic Centre would be permanent. But so I became associated with the Civic Centre and in order to attack me and my philosophy and policy the group of councillors around Patrick Kelliher, and I’ve got to include Trevor De Cleene, Gordon Brown and Joyce Dunmore, particularly in that group. And it was sad period in my public life. And my family suffered enormously, the children in particular. And of course, it is very easy to destroy or delay the creation of anything, not so easy to bring together the resources and the commitment to see it happen. And so I went through a period of enormous frustration but nonetheless held to my personally declared line – personally declared to myself, that I would not let opponents get to me individually and I would not lose my cool. That I would argue the issues and not against the people. So it was very hard for me to take the sort of personal flack that centred around the debate on the Civic Centre. Anyway, we won the poll and quickly committed the foundations in order to beat the rising cost. We were facing construction costs index increases of close to 30% and every square metre of concrete we put into the ground represented a very substantial saving. Then of course after the poll there was another election and Trevor De Cleene stood against me basically with the idea of stopping the Civic Centre. Heavens knows what would have happened had he succeeded because nearly a million dollars of rate-payers money had been committed to the basement and basic foundations. Anyway, I won that election by a pretty substantial majority and it was a clear indication from the public that they wanted the thing finished. Nonetheless led by Pat Kelliher there were delaying tactics employed all along the way. The delay probably cost the city over a million dollars. The Civic Centre could have been built for less than it was built had there been cooperation. But it was typical of Palmerston North’s history. Every major project had found great controversy. But there it was, the Civic Centre was built, it was a success, it was a catalyst to development and we’ve made great progress as at this time and there’s still a lot of progress to be made. But we will have one of the finest Civic Centres in New Zealand including administration, convention venue, art gallery, theatre and one of my very dear ambitions a new museum. One of my disappointments that I haven’t been able to put together a financial package to get the museum started but at least we’ve got the basic concept agreed, the location agreed. I would have like to have put that financial package together before I went out of office, but I felt it wise for the sake of the museum just to back away from that and let my successors work on that particular problem. I hope it won’t be too long before the museum is built to complete the collection of buildings that I foresaw in the early days as making up a civic centre. Each will then support the other and then the administration of the city will be seen as part of the more interesting cultural environment and not be set in splendid isolation away from the people in the community and the activities of the people in the community enjoy participating in. It wouldn’t have been disastrous to have taken up some of the suggestions to build a new administration building at the rear of the old council chamber now Square Edge. This was the ambition of Gordon Brown. A man who had great capacity and great courage but lacked vision in my view in terms of seeing sufficiently the future and unable to see the spin-off benefits and multiplier effects that could come from making bold decision about the location of key buildings. In fact Gordon Brown opposed my concept of developing the city Square. His concept was to move the grass close to the shop frontages and converting the Square into a major carpark. When one looks back on it today, if that view had prevailed that would have been another disaster for Palmerston North. We would have had an asphalt carpark where there is now glorious grass and trees and some water.
Labour vs National councillors.

IM: It seems that there was a significant grouping of councillors with Labour backgrounds, Labour Party connections against you. Do you think that this was a Labour vs National debate
?
BE: Well it was a Labour thing against me. So many people over the years have said that it was inevitable that I would go to Parliament and one day I would be Prime Minister. The people who said that didn’t really understand me. I’ve never been a person to seek position and in fact I have never, and I’ve had to admit this to myself quite recently, I have never been a party politician. I have had very little connection with party politics. I don’t like the discipline that goes with caucusing. In other words that the interest of the party outweigh the concern for the issues and I like to have the intellectual freedom to seek the right solution to a problem and I don’t like being directed by a party machine. But somehow I was seen, I believe, as a threat to the Labour organisation of Palmerston North and maybe even further afield. I really was never a threat because I have harboured no real party political ambitions. I’ve only made one political error in my life and that was to stand as a National Party candidate for Palmerston North in a situation that was basically hopeless from the National Party point of view. But I did so out of a commitment to Palmerston North and not to the National Party. Indeed the leader of the National Party the then Prime Minister Mr Muldoon refused to see me and publicly refused to see me over an appointment I had with him when I was president of the Municipal Association. There was little love between Mr Muldoon and myself who was a centralist politician and myself I was a de-centralised politician wanting to take away power from government and place it out in the community at the local government level as the organisation in place to significantly contribute to the welfare of people locally rather than have it directed by a centralist sitting in Wellington. So the Labour people made a mistake and I think spent a lot of energy trying to demolish me as an individual unsuccessfully. Perhaps one of the most satisfying things that’s happened to me in my public life has been to receive an appointment from the Labour Government elected in 1984 to head a major government commission and I’ve been told by the system that I am the first full-time commission chairman appointed in New Zealand and certainly the youngest. That has been an appointment from the Labour Government, my nomination from the Minister of Local Government went through cabinet and went through the Labour caucus. That to me has re-established my sense of independence. Now in standing for the National Party for Palmerston North I did so only because the sitting Labour member Joe Walding retired and so the field was entirely wide open. I looked back in a historical sense and saw what the late J.A. Nash did as both mayor and Member of Parliament. I believe that I could sit as both mayor and member as he did and in fact my plan was to put the Mayor into Parliament. I harboured a view that party politics was of less interest to the public at that stage in the country’s history. I was told by the National Party organisation that no matter how good the candidate, the candidate is worth only 500 votes, the rest of the voting is for the party. I indicated that if that was the case then I might as well go fishing at that stage and not bother to contest the campaign and so I did not contest the campaign in a traditional political way, I just indicated that if the public of Palmerston North wanted to have their Mayor in Parliament I was willing to go. Clearly the issue arose: no we must keep him as mayor and not have him in Parliament and the Labour Party exploited that. So it was De Cleene for Parliament and Elwood for Mayor. And in terms of their campaign it was a shrewd and correct campaign. The public bought that even though so many of them wrote to me afterwards and said that they wished that I had gone to Parliament to set a new standard of politics – a non-confrontational kind of politics that I had displayed as Mayor of Palmerston North. I don’t regret not getting into Parliament, it clearly was not my scene and the way in which things developed I would not have enjoyed one little bit at all.
IM: There are 42 minutes on this tape so we could stop at this point and Graham could put

[Continues at 43:00]
Councillor Mihaere’s role.

IM: I would like your comments on local government reorganisation and what you hoped to achieve. Mr Elwood we’ve talked about the Labour Party affiliations of some of your opponents during the arguments over the Civic Centre, what was the role of Councillor Mihaere at this time?
BE: Sam Mihaere was a known Labour Party supporter and in fact stood for the Manawatu seat on one occasion as a Labour candidate. Sam Mihaere was a very sincere person and perhaps like myself was not too committed to the rigidity of party discipline. He was pressured to oppose the Civic Centre but he had convinced himself that the Civic Centre was needed and remained a loyal supporter to the Civic Centre and the work that I was doing in order to get the Civic Centre underway. I was aware that on a last crucial debate before committing stage two, he was summoned to a meeting at Joe Walding’s house in Fitzherbert Avenue and Trevor De Cleene and Gordon Brown were alleged to be there and Sam was told that if he didn’t vote against the resolution to commit stage two he would never stand again for the Labour Party. He would never be offered a position by the Labour Party. This worried Sam a great deal because he had a sense of loyalty to the party but before the meeting he came to me and told me what had been done to him and he said in simple terms as Sam was prone to say: ‘They are not going to push me around like that when I know what I’m doing is right’. And Sam voted for the resolution to proceed knowing that it would be the end of his political life and there was one vote in it at the finish. If he’d voted another way then it wouldn’t have been my final casting vote that would have sorted out the issue, stage two of the Civic Centre would not have been committed. So I have always, to myself, and I do now publicly for the first time, acknowledge that Sam Mihaere’s vote under considerable pressure was a very key issue in committing stage two of the Civic Centre.
IM: Now Sam Mihaere was also leader of an urban marae project at that time. I heard rumours that he was asked to vote against the Civic Complex in order to secure support from certain councillors for the marae.
BE: That’s right, the horse trading went on, the pressure that he was placed under was enormous. And I think they misread Sam, they believed he was a weak person who would buckle under that sort of pressure but Sam had a basic sense of morality which wasn’t going to be destroyed by horse trading. He was not a horse trader. He thought about an issue and made up his mind and loyally stuck to it. That was putting the issue above the party politics. I only wish a few more people adopted the same attitude that he adopted. It was certainly consistent with my own approach to public life. No matter what the consequences for me as an individual it was the issue that was more important.

Relationship with the news media particularly the Manawatu Evening Standard.

IM: Your relationship with the news media was often rather tense during the 1970s. The Evening Standard were not by-and-large supporters of your vision.
BE: Correct. That possibly was because the Evening Standard was a family-controlled newspaper, one of those families that I mentioned earlier in my comments. I wasn’t from a family that was considered to be in the same social strata and to a degree I was an outsider. And my political support never came from those families, my political support in fact came from the ordinary Palmerstonian, probably a great number of them Labour Party supporters. In fact, Joe Walding once paid me a complement that I’ve never forgotten, it was simply that he thought I had more friends in the Labour Party than I had in the National Party. That was quite tremendous because it indicated that I was crossing the divisions that took place in the party political sense. The Evening Standard were unsympathetic because they wanted the Palmerston North that they knew and that was the editorial commitment and certainly the management commitment. And wherever I turned they tried to make life difficult for me including the fact that they would never publish my Christian name. It was always Mr B.G.C. Elwood and whenever I said: ‘Why don’t you call me Brian Elwood?, because that’s what the public of Palmerston North called me, the answer was: ‘That’s not the way we do it at this paper.’ Then as the influence of Norman Nash4 declined and they started to put more senior journalists to work on the City Council round and as those senior journalists started to go out and make comparisons with what was happening out in the wider world, and after I was starting to get a few successes, the things that I’d talked about which they thought were just dreaming were being turned into successes, they started to take notice. And over the last few years, the Evening Standard has been a real supporter to the point that last year I went out and said to the advertising agents in Palmerston North and to the Manawatu Evening Standard: ‘Why don’t we all get together and pool our collective resources and promote Palmerston North, because you as businessmen will do well if Palmerston North does well.’ And without too much effort I was able to get the advertising agencies to do their skilled layout work for free and the Manawatu Evening Standard published page after page of free advertising proudly proclaiming Palmerston North and what it had to offer. It was all done for free, it was a major breakthrough. Palmerston North had a commitment, the Evening Standard had a commitment. I give credit to Robin Watson, Paul Cavanaugh in particular and to the new management under Paul Henson. And I think the Standard suddenly realised that it was not news to knock Palmerston North and knock the people who were trying to develop Palmerston North but to promote Palmerston North which was their prime market place. And that breakthrough in the psychology of the news media was enormous. There was also the pressure created by the success I was having with 2ZA and my introduction of a lengthy mayoral talk-back after each council session. The feedback from that which I received was extremely positive. It was enabling me to explain the issues more fully in a way in which the news media were not explaining it. That is the Evening Standard in particular were not explaining it. The Evening Standard seemed in those early days to derive pleasure from the personal conflict between councillors. It goes back to the 1960s when I talk of the prima donna councillors creating those sorts of the situations and the Evening Standard carried it on. A fellow called Doug Davies, the Manawatu Times that went out of existence, he loved those personal conflicts. But in the finish the positive response to the radio broadcasts indicated that people thirsted for knowledge. They wanted to know why a decision was taken, what were the options that were being considered and why was the particular decision taken over other options. The Evening Standard gave more prominence to the individual comments of councillors especially where those comments were negative or critical and gave less prominence to the decision. And really from the public’s point of view it is the decision that’s important and the decision needs explaining. Because no matter what the individual councillor argues, it is what the council collectively, by a majority decision, decides that really determines the course of action. And so I think the Evening Standard reporters came to recognise that they needed to change their method of approach. And now we have less emphasis upon personality conflicts between councillors and less explanation of the issues and how pleased I was this year, after going through a very difficult estimates debate, where the only way the rates could be cut down would be to postpone necessary capital work such as major street upgrading. The Evening Standard came out with a complimentary editorial in face of a rate increase of nearly 21%. Now none of us enjoyed having to put a rate increase of that nature into place. But we simply had to say in the interests of maintaining the impetus of the development of Palmerston North, that had to be the rate increase. We could’ve so easily have said: ‘No more capital works this year, we will just barely maintain what it is we have got in position.’ But the Evening Standard saw the argument, they moved away from the percentage game and gave us credit for biting the bullet.
Relationships between councillors and staff.

IM: You referred to the arguments and tensions between councillors in the 1960s and the publicity that was given to this, what were relations like between councillors and staff at the beginning of your term, and what are they like now?
BE: Generally poor at the beginning because the attitude was to put the council staff into second place as second-class citizens. It’s a strange thing that some people have within them, an inability to see people as working in a team situation so the division, the separation between councillors and council staff was pretty intense when I took over. I’ve always adopted the view that you need a team approach. Getting the best out of people you give them responsibility and you trust them to get on. When I took office I met all the departmental heads and I said: ‘I really only have one requirement, that is loyalty to Palmerston North and I want you to do your job without interference from me. I want only to be given an early warning of when things are going wrong. I don’t want to know about it after it has gone wrong or after the public know about it.’ And I also indicated to the departmental heads that so long as they kept me fully briefed, I would support them publicly if they made a mistake, if their mistake was genuine and not malicious. And right to the end I’ve kept that commitment to the departmental heads and to council staff. So I was able to establish a relationship especially with the departmental heads where they and I were equals. We each had a responsibility to fulfil, we could not fulfil our responsibilities without the other performing well. We were in a fragile boat together, we should all row in the same direction. And it just happened that I was, because of the electoral system, first among equals. And that relationship remained, I developed it with Peter Hall5 who was an old-style Town Clerk, a very independent sort of individual. But he respected the new environment that I was trying to create. And then along came Peter Apthorp6 who was very professional perhaps lacking some political understanding, but very professional in terms of his confidence and he appreciated the managerial opportunity that he had to get on and do his job without interference from me. I didn’t make demands upon him, he was not to be my message boy, he was not to be a picker-up of paper or to get me out of trouble spots. If I got into trouble, I was to get myself out of them. But we established a very professional relationship which has survived right to the very end.
George Hogg and his successors as City Engineer.

IM: You mentioned George Hogg as being one of the dominant figures in the council during the 50s and 60s, he retired just before you came to office. What comment would you like to make about his successors as Engineer.
BE: I don’t think George Hogg took to kindly to me. I was a young upstart and he probably feared my vision which was to put less emphasis on the basic services. But as I say, I give him great credit for a commitment to those basic services. When we came to select his successor, we had the opportunity to appoint from Gisborne a fellow by the name of Williams who was in the George Hogg mould, dominant as an engineer and dominant as an individual. Well we had the opportunity to select Neil Johansen, as solid engineering background, but very much a humanist. My argument probably prevailed and Neil Johansen was selected. He was an enormous success in my view. Probably he won’t get the credit that is due to him but he was a success because in times of rapid change he was prepared as an engineer to be a very human person. He frustrated a lot of other councillors who just wanted a simple yes or no answer to an engineering question. But Neil Johansen went out of his way to explain things to people in a way that they could understand. And I think that as a foil to what was happening in, and to Palmerston North, Neil Johansen was perfect for his time. We’ve now moved with Alan Bickers away from a sort of personal approach of Neil Johansen to a more professional approach. Alan Bickers and Peter Apthorp are very similar in nature, neither of them have very good clear political understanding but very happy to say rely on someone like myself to guide them through the troubled political water whilst they get on with their job in a professional way. Alan Bickers will probably goes down as one of the leading municipal engineers in New Zealand. He’s responded well to the creative environment which is already existing in Palmerston North.
City Planners.

And talking of creative environment, its important to then move to the City Planners Peter Bagnall and Ken Tremaine7, and before Peter Bagnall, Ken Nairn8. Ken Nairn was basically a self-taught planner, pragmatic and you compare him with a Ken Tremaine who’s a sophisticated well-educated planner, and in between them was Peter Bagnall9 who in my view initiated good changes in the planning environment in Palmerston North. He was not appreciated by the majority of councillors. I certainly appreciated him and thought he did an excellent job in changing Palmerston North from a very rigid planning environment to a much more creative planning environment. And along came Ken Tremaine into this sort of Palmerston North environment, was given his head, thoroughly appreciated the creative opportunities that were there and with my encouragement and supported by Bernie Forde who’s probably the most hard-working councillor the city has seen in the last decade, we now have in place planning mechanisms which are as flexible and development-orientated as any major council in New Zealand. I hope Ken Tremaine will stay around for a while and not move on. It’s important to have creative planners like he and now with Brent Wheeler Deputy Planner, great future ahead. Another person in the planning field that deserves a lot of credit is Mike Foster who was with us for a short time. Came from Wanganui where he was Deputy Planner, he couldn’t believe the change of environment. It was so dramatic in terms of working in Wanganui and in Palmerston North. He was a real development man, a ‘seat of the pants’ planner, a ‘get out and get stuck in’. If it meant going out and seeing somebody at 11:00 at night, he didn’t care. Get the job done, get on with the next one. He was excellent in terms of the development environment of the last four or five years.
Generally the other departmental heads all fulfil their role, very good, they are near the tops of their profession and the city has been extremely well served departmental head-wise and right down through the system. There is one council officer that I think has been unfairly treated over the years and that’s Roy Bodell. He suffered from the fact that his father was a councillor and his own personal lack of patience with councillors who didn’t have his engineering abilities. But Roy has a commitment to Palmerston North and decided to stay here. I hope that one day he gets a City Engineer’s position somewhere and he feels able to move from Palmerston North. It may be difficult for him to progress in Palmerston North within the engineer’s department but I place on record the fact that he is a very competent engineer and circumstances operated against him. He could’ve been City Engineer.
Palmerston North City Corporation.

IM: Is it significant that the Palmerston North city corporation doesn’t have a General Manager?
BE: Yes.
IM: Do you see yourself as having been a General Manager.
BE: At this point of time I have to admit that yes I set out to adopt that role. In fact, I saw myself as the Managing Director with some executive responsibility but I had to exercise it with a great deal of circumspection. In the sense that where you have departmental heads the tendency is to see the departments as all-important and that was one of the weaknesses of the administrative system that I inherited, that the departments saw themselves as more important than any other department or in fact more important than the City Corporation. To a degree this was accentuated by the fact that the activities of the Council was spread over four or five buildings and each department acted in isolation. In fact, staff within departments seldom communicated. I wanted to develop the corporate approach and quietly but quite deliberately I set out to develop the fact that we were the Palmerston North City Corporation. I had the Council accept the use of the word City Corporation instead of City Council because I wanted to separate in the minds of councillors and in the minds of the public that the Council was the Council and the Board of Directors, but the Corporation was the organisation that delivered the services. And so I looked at the question when Peter Hall retired whether I should move away from departmental activity into a General Manager concept. And I decided that if I was able to keep the whole exercise together I would preserve the interrelationship between key staff – act quietly as the quasi-General Manager and act as the clearing house for conflict between officers. And that is in fact the role that I have fulfilled. I’ve done it not by directing, but by suggesting courses of action which the departmental heads have come to see as sensible. In other words my credibility was necessary in their minds for them to accept what I had done. And as my credibility grew so their acceptance to having me act as arbitrator was acceptable to them. Now that’s probably because I’ve had managerial skills and saw the role of Mayor as that of Managing Director rather than as social head. The social side of the mayoralty has been less appealing to me than the management of the resources, human and financial, which the City Council control. And so we’ve developed a wonderful working relationship where the officers trust me and I trust them and as I say we treated ourselves as equals and I never once had to direct anybody to do anything. It always resulted from suggestions. I think there will be pressures on the Council organisation, especially if tension develops between officers for a General Manager to be appointed. I would regret that in the shorter term. In the longer term if the Council organisation gets larger, it may be necessary to have a General Manager. But so long as the corporate identity is recognised by the departments, the departments are able to function independently and individually but with a corporate framework. I’ve set in place the various committee structures between the departmental heads to allow the communication. The moment a departmental head considers his department as more important than the City Corporation, that will be the time that Council will have to consider a General Manager concept. If we lose the corporate identity then the whole purpose of the City Corporation is lost.
Relationships with councillors.

IM: During your term of office it’s been clear that you were giving leadership to the whole organisation. Of course, you didn’t do that just on your own, would you like to make some comments on those councillors who have been seen as your allies through the years.
BE: Well good councils don’t just happen. And had I not gone out and looked for individuals who had a contribution to make then we would have had a different Council in the city over the last decade and we would have had, I believe, a different city today. Certain individuals were hand-picked by me. Perhaps the most important individual was Gordon Kear who I first met as a new councillor in 1968. We hadn’t met each other before. He was an older man than I, served in the Navy as a Lieutenant- Commander, had been used to commanding men in a quite brusque and, in some people’s terms, brutal way. We hit it off and he became a very loyal supporter. He and David Spring encouraged me to stand for the mayoralty, whereas Gordon Brown said that I would be a disaster and said that I should wait till I grew up and wait in the queue for older men to take the position. So that was fine, that was his approach, I then went out to attract some competent people in the community and I settled on Paul Rieger10 and Bernard Forde and personally spent some weeks persuading them to stand. Neither of them had the confidence to stand. They then agreed to stand – were successful and the team of Elwood, Kear, Rieger and Forde from 1971 right until Gordon Kear’s death a short time ago, we were the solid hard core of that Council. Four of us who were totally independent in terms of individuals competent in their own chosen sphere of operation, trusted each other implicitly and were supportive of one another. We just seemed to have a similar sympathetic philosophy to life and to our relationships with people that enabled us to hold together under considerable pressure. Bernard Forde11 would be the hardest working councillor that the city has seen. Enormous capacity for work as a scientist, perhaps a little too committed to detail in comparison to a Paul Rieger who doesn’t get involved in detail but makes up his mind fairly quickly on the broad issue. A very happy combination. Gordon Kear12 out doing the ‘gut work.’ If there’s a tough assignment to do Gordon Kear would want to get in and do it and he’d do it extremely well. Too bluntly on occasions. But it’s - I think, and I hope history records that the four of us were the heart of the team that kept the ship afloat and going forward.
There were other councillors along the way that I basically went out and selected. Peter Barter who was an architect. Jim Rowe, a professor of economics at Massey University; John Robson, a builder; John Moxon, an accountant; Graham Hubbard, a lawyer, those sorts of names come to mind as people that I persuaded - had a sense of obligation to make a commitment to the community. Perhaps in making a comparison of the City Council of the last decade and other councils in New Zealand, we have a higher proportion of professional people, whether it’s as teachers or lecturers or lawyer or accountants and so there has been a group of individuals who have expertise in their own right and some copacity to look at issues broadly. So we’ve had a broadly based, broadly skilled Council. The ordinary person has not surfaced around the Council table. In fact the ordinary person who didn’t have a capacity to read, digest a lot of material would have found it a real burden. In fact, we’ve had one or two councillors who just couldn’t keep up with things and I’d name Pat Kelliher as one of those. The longest-serving councillor, he’s got a real ambition to make sure that he is the longest-serving councillor was his ambition, good luck to him, but in terms of contribution, there has not been a big contribution from Pat Kelliher. He was called, in his hey-day the ‘watch dog’. He was a watch dog because he barked at every issue, he looked for what was wrong in what was being done and he received a great deal of publicity, but there’s no substance to Pat Kelliher. He doesn’t do his homework, even now doesn’t fully understand the operation of Council, the operation of the administrative organisation, the inter-relationship between departments, the standing orders, but he’s had a marvellous press over the years, but it’s always been on the losing side. The interesting thing is that although Pat Kelliher would dig a hole as quick as he could and push me into it, I have been his personal solicitor since the late 1950s and when Pat got into trouble I was the person he turned to. One of those contradictions in a human sense that I have never understood and I don’t think I ever will. But he’s never once caused me to lose my cool in public. I would have loved to have told him what I really thought on many occasions.
Thoughts on the ward system.

IM: In recent years there have been discussions on the advantages of ward systems of representation. What’s your attitude towards wards?
BE: I don’t like wards in a city like Palmerston North simply because we are a small enough community and it’s the interests of the city in the same way as I see it as the interests of the corporation as a entity, we are a city and we should promote the city and we have ensured that amenities have been provided city-wide. However, it’s almost inevitable that one day the city will develop wards and it won’t be an easy exercise to have discernible areas of interest. One of the interesting things in Palmerston North we have no obvious rich areas and no obvious poor areas. People talk about the ‘Hokowhit’ as being the rich area, but there are state houses and some very old and run-down housing areas in the so called Hokowhit area. We have a few little pockets but no major areas where people are privileged and that’s good planning. We’ve got the amenities over the whole of the city.
IM: But with the changing nature of the social mix in Palmerston North, I think certain sections

BE: Yes, we could have young and old, rather than rich and poor. So that will probably be the trend. Some of the areas will have the families, other areas will have the retired people and the attitude will be entirely different. I can recall the likes of John Metcalf opposing the development of the indoor swimming pool. At his age he would say: ‘Why should I support a swimming centre, I’ll never use it.’ Yet the young people dearly wanted to have a covered indoor swimming pool. These sorts of contradictions clearly would arise but Palmerston North won’t be disadvantaged in terms of amenities, therefore there may not be these pressure in Palmerston North as there will be in some communities that do not have community amenities. The pressure in the future will be to duplicate the amenities that we have and put them out in the suburbs. Then we well could be, if there were four wards, four competing arguments about which suburb should have the next indoor swimming pool. And clearly we will need another indoor swimming pool one day.
Local government involvement at a national level.

IM: Turning now to your involvement at the national level with local government, you’ve undoubtedly been more deeply involved with the Municipal Association and with broad issues of local government than any other mayor in our city’s history. Why were you so willing to become involved at the national level, when you’ve stated your primary concern was for the city and to raise its image?
BE: Well one of the problems that when you deal with just a single issue, and take Palmerston North as a single issue, that your vision becomes blinkered, and it was essential for me in order to test the validity of my own theories to relate those theories to what was taking place in the rest of New Zealand. And I’ve had a deep personal philosophical commitment to the place of local government in the manner in which our country is managed politically. That it was essential if I was to have any influence on the way in which the laws were written I had to serve at the national level and I was lucky enough to be elected the youngest president of the Municipal Association and to serve the maximum three terms allowed for in the constitution of the Association. I think I became the president only after being mayor for four years and normally you didn’t become president until really you were near the end of your period in local government and so the Municipal Association gave me a great opportunity to get involved in the law making that was associated with the bringing together of the Municipal and Counties Associations – no – Municipal and Counties Acts. I tried to get the two associations Municipal and Counties Associations operating as one association but I failed in that the counties have been very reluctant to endorse change. One day there will be one local government association, the sooner the better as far as I’m concerned. I developed good friendships inside the Labour Government and the National Government in local government matters and indeed the Labour local government caucus asked me for advice as had the National caucus on local government and so I’d been pretty deeply committed, I’ve got a broad overview on the place of local government and a much better understanding and appreciation of how lucky we are in Palmerston North to have the administrative system that we’ve got and it brought about the achievements that we have. Most councils in growth areas are fraught with conflict, much of it political party orientated and they don’t have the sort of creative image that we have here in Palmerston North as an administrative unit.
Vision for local government in New Zealand.

IM: What’s your vision for local government in New Zealand?
BE: Well as these facts are not going to be released for some long time, I can probably be a little more honest about it all. Clearly what I want to see put in place in New Zealand are administrative units. I don’t want to call them rural or urban, I want to see them as administrative units that are sensible in terms of a political grouping, realistic in terms of community of interest, but which allow for development of the resources of New Zealand at the local level for the benefit of citizens of New Zealand and without regard for preserving the artificial division between rural and urban dwellers. In a more practical sense I can say that planning should not just be town and country planning but it should be New Zealand planning and there’s nothing in my mind that prevents a basic urban administrative unit having rural land within its territory for administrative purposes and there’s nothing wrong in having an urban centre in a rural – basically rural administrative unit. So what I hope to do is to significantly redraw the boundaries of administrative units in local government in New Zealand, so that we have competent political and administrative units able to deliver more people-related services and depend less on central government for services.
Manawatu United Council.

IM: Now you’ve already had some experience with regional government in Manawatu through the Manawatu United Council. What is your sense of achievement or frustration with the operations of the Manawatu United Council.
BE: Total failure. I made a miscalculation. I thought the rural would respond if the city gave away some of its voting power at the United Council level. And I persuaded the City Council to accept five seats on the 18 person United Council. Whereas we had about 52% of the population of the region and on a population basis we should have had at least half – we should have had at least 9 seats on that council. I did that because I didn’t want Palmerston North to be seen as the big brother and of course the rural people at the time thought that I was a great fellow for doing that. It in effect gave the rural community the power to control the United Council. I thought that they would respond to the challenge that they had and respond to the fact that Palmerston North had provided all the amenities that the region needed at no cost to the region and that we could’ve had the possibility of being the first regional council in New Zealand to have an operative regional plan simply because we had no real problems, everything was in place, we had an enormous future, we could set an example for the rest of New Zealand to follow. But simple jealousy and very small-minded approach to the future made the United Council fail because the rural community were just not prepared to see any value in the planning process and their whole attitude was related to planning. In fact at the start of the second United Council, that is the one that was appointed in 1983, the rural people put through a resolution proudly to spend no money on regional planning. Now of course, my confidence in human nature was misplaced and there was no way I was going to accept nomination again for chairman of the United Council in an environment where the rural people believed they could destroy it simply by voting it nothing to do. I regret that attitude by the rural people around here. I believe they may regret it in the future because other regions in New Zealand have now got a jump of the Manawatu and the Manawatu has to do a bit of catching up. The sad thing is that the rural hinterland of Palmerston North has lived off the back of Palmerston North, the city has provided the amenities, I knew that was unfair in 1971 when I was first elected but I came to the view that if I sat back and waited for the rural community to make a fair contribution to the provision of basically regional amenities nothing would happen in Palmerston North. And of course the fiasco of the financing of the grandstand at the Showgrounds where the Kairanga County have refused to contribute a dollar to the building of that grandstand, it just defies comprehension. The County has over 6000 population, it doesn’t have a rugby field, doesn’t have a tennis court, doesn’t have a cricket wicket, doesn’t have a swimming pool, in fact has absolutely nothing. A debt proudly announced of $21 000 and a rate increase this year of 2.5% in face of inflation of 14%. It’s unreal. But of course the reality is if you can live off the back of somebody else and not provide it yourself, that is what human nature does. And I thought that the rural people would have greater awareness of the benefits of contributing amenities and having to share in the cost. So the Kairanga County attitude has been a real problem for many years in the development of Palmerston North. Boundary extensions and alterations, a history book could be written about it. We had piecemeal approaches to the problem simply because the County has hung on to what it has got in order to preserve its own identity for the future. What sort of small-minded approach won’t do this region any good for the future. I believe there will be some changes.
Chairman of the Local Government Commission.

IM: If those sorts of attitudes are found throughout the country then your role as chairman of the Local Government Commission

BE: Extremely difficult. But there are residual powers to the Commission initiate change and although I would not have taken the position of chairman had the chairman and the Commission had dictatorial powers to impose solutions, at least there is the capacity for the Commission to initiate proposals for change and the Commission that I head will not hesitate to use that residual power to float proposals for change and go out and sell those proposals to the communities affected. In simple terms we want to redraw the boundaries of local government relevant to the 21st century which is only 15 years away whereas the administrative units are now based on boundaries we set in 1876. The whole issue speaks for itself. What I have to try and do is to persuade enough of those inside local government to accept the necessity to change even if it means giving up their own positions. One of the reasons why I have walked away from the mayoralty I’ve enjoyed for 14 years is to say simply that I have made a sacrifice in order to strengthen the position of local government in New Zealand. It’s not a matter of amalgamating one council with another, it is a matter of redrawing the boundaries to make modern sense in relation to the technological era in which we are now placed and which is going to get more technological as time passes.

Personal origins in Palmerston North.

IM: Just to finish off Mr Elwood, could we just talk for a moment about your own personal origins here in Palmerston, were you born in Palmerston North?
BE: Yes, I was born in Palmerston North. My grandfather on the maternal side emigrated to New Zealand in the early part of the century and decided to live in Palmerston North and purchased land opposite Massey as it now is and developed a fruit orchard and became a renowned manufacturer of apple cider [skip] Palmerston North and boarded in my mother’s parent’s house opposite the main gate to Massey College. So, one thing led to another and they happened to get married and about a year later I was the result. My grandfather on my father’s side was a merchant in Zurich and had branch business in India which resulted in my father being born in India, but of Swiss parents.
IM: And the schools you went to in Palmerston North?
BE: I went to College Street School where my mother had also been a pupil and my own children went to College Street School so three generations went to College Street School then to Intermediate Normal and Palmerston North Boys’ High School and then on to Victoria University.
IM: The first reference to you in our Council records that I’ve been able to locate, is in 1966 when there was the argument over the eastern distributor of the transportation plan where it was a proposed that a main highway through the heart of Hokowhitu and through Cremorne Avenue in particular. Did that act as a catalyst for your involvement in local politics?
BE: To a degree yes. It was the first time I had ever been into the City Council building and I was approached basically as a young lawyer by a group of people who lived in Te Awe Awe Street to professionally present their objections to the proposals. The – I was very lucky in my early days to have a rapidly growing legal practice and at that stage I was probably seen as the busiest lawyer in Palmerston North. That is probably why I was approached and that was part of the process of my taking an interest in the affairs of the local community coupled with the fact of my overseas visits and gaining of confidence in myself. Probably I was a very shy and insecure person as a youngster. I never wanted to be out front and in fact it’s still not an easy thing to be out front and I’ve never wanted to be top of anything or have the best house or the best car. Those have never been motivating factors. In fact, I have very small personal requirements. But I have a wish to make things a lot easier for a lot of other people. My parents struggled through depression years, they were married in the depression. Came out of depression and into war and never really had very much as a result. It was a difficult period in New Zealand’s history. When I first worked as a lawyer I received six pounds a week. I never owned a motor car and when I came to Palmerston North, I doubted whether I would ever own a motor car. But I’d worked on the wharves in Wellington and the midnight shift at the Post Office shifting mail bags and between Dawn’s savings and mine I think we had saved by the time of our marriage about six hundred pounds which was enough to put down as a deposit for a house and that’s how we got started. We never had a car for two years after we were married. You know, I’ve known hard times and even at university I would eat a meal only every second day because that’s all I could afford. On the alternate days I ate half a pound of bananas to keep me going. So that people have this mistaken impression that I had been born with a silver spoon in my mouth and that is so totally wrong and far from the truth. My parents made a lot of sacrifices to enable me to go to university. It wasn’t easy, and I knew that I had to succeed because if I failed my parents couldn’t keep making a contribution. I think my university bursary plus boarding bursary came to £26 a year. And I worked odd hours and odd jobs to get enough money and my parents made the sacrifices and I think went without things themselves to supplement it. So the old families of Palmerston North knew that I wasn’t from a moneyed connection. I wasn’t from a moneyed connection because of the circumstances of the Depression and war. My father, when he left Massey College, bought a dairy farm and a cheese factory in Otaki with his family’s fortune. Both of those failed during the war when the private cheese factory was confiscated and farms just weren’t able to be sold because there were land controls and all sorts of things. I’ve worked for all that I’ve got with the help of my parents who made great sacrifices.
IM: Well, your contribution to the city of Palmerston North has definitely been a very notable one and I’m sure you’ve got a niche – a very important one in Palmerston North as to whether you will be given a similar place in history with the role of the Local Government Commission remains to be seen. So perhaps when these tapes are being listened to in 20 or 30 years’ time your role will be better known.
BE: I’m in a high-risk area, I’m taking it on knowing that it’s a high-risk area but I’ve got a very deep commitment to the place of local government and want to strengthen it not destroy it and hopefully I can persuade others that some changes are needed so that local government can be strengthened. In terms of the western democracy, local government in New Zealand is in a very poor position in terms of its relationship to central government. Put another way, local government in New Zealand has less control of resources than does central government the ratio is very much in favour of the central government. Such things as education, health, housing, police which are seen as tradition local government functions in western democracies have not been given to local government in New Zealand. Housing in particular should be a local government function but funded other than from land rating. We’ll never see education or police back in the local government area but as the government moves to more people-related services then I think the delivery of those services should be through local government units simply so a local community can determine the level of its support at the human face of society and policies that are relevant to Auckland need not be applied to Taihape. A centrally dictated society is one where the standards are set in Wellington or the capital city and because they have to apply even-handedly over the whole of New Zealand you tend – or the whole of a country – you tend to get compromise solution without regard to the expectations, wishes or needs of a local community. So I’m taking on the new job with a commitment to the role of local government but I’m going to be very difficult to persuade that the old administrative boundaries set in 1876 should be allowed to continue to the 21st century.
IM: Mr Elwood, thank you very much indeed.
1 Mayor of Palmerston North from 1968-1971.
2 Mayor of Palmerston North 1959-1968.
3 City Engineer from 1951. Neil Johansen became City Engineer in 1969.
4 Norman Nash became part owner of the Manawatu Evening Standard in 1903. His descendants held controlling interests in the business until 1981.
5 Town Clerk of the Palmerston North City Council from 1954 to 1974.
6 Town Clerk of Palmerston North City Council from 1974 until 1989.
7 City Planner for Palmerston North City Council from 1976-1994.
8 City Planner for Palmerston North City Council from 1953-1973.
See Manawatu Standard: https://www.stuff.co.nz/manawatu-standard/news/97958606/city-planner-helped-shape-palmerston-norths-heart
9 City Planner for Palmerston North City Council from 1973-1976.
10 City Councillor 1971-1985 and Mayor of Palmerston North 1985-1998.
11 City Councillor from 1971 and Deputy Mayor from 1985 until 1998.
12 City Councillor from 1968 until his death in 1983.




31

User comments