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Lower Hutt Community Centres: Final Statement (1950)


Chapter 10

In the Destruction of the Hutt Valley community planning scheme a great opportunity has been lost to experiment with new ways of ordering the business of living. To those who dislike experiment, or who think that we in New Zealand have nothing to learn, that cur ways of living have already reached perfection and cannot be improved upon, the fate of the Hutt Valley scheme will mean nothing. But to those who think otherwise, who believe that we have still a long way to go before we can boast a truly civilised mode of life, what happened to the planning projects of the new State Housing settlements of Lower Hutt will be viewed as nothing less than a tragedy.
We have seen how the planners, in the early days, were encouraged by the Labour Government to proceed with their proposals in the confident expectation that when the time came for implementing their well-thought-out schemes they would receive sympathetic and adequate co-operation from that Government. We have also seen how, when that time actually arrived - a time for the Government to pass from the stage of fair words to that of decision and action - Mr Nash and his colleagues became evasive and hostile, and for all practical purposes reversed their initial attitude of helpful support for the aspirations and aims of the community planners.
What was the cause of this change of attitude? I leave it to the political analyst to suggest the full answer. Such factors as secret distrust of progressive principles or, at most, half-hearted belief in them; increasing reluctance to depart from the trodden ways characteristic of the hardening minds of aging politicians too long in office; a timid fear that a bold experimenting policy might lose the votes of vested interests or of those who hate change: such factors as these doubtless supply the explanation.
However that may be, if the Labour Government had in fact been genuine in their support for the Hutt Valley community planning project, what should have been their attitude? Surely, nothing less than this:
On learning of the existence in the new State Housing settlements
of Epuni, Naenae, and Taita of a desire amongst the community leaders for planning their future community on modern and enlightened lines, Mr Nash and his associates should have said to the would-be planners: "Yes, what you want to do is a fine thing, and fully in accord with the policy and outlook of the present Government. We believe in consumers' co-operation, health centres, and community centres, and we think your idea of planning these as a co-ordinated set of social and economic services adequately housed in specially designed buildings which will be both beautiful and useful is a splendid conception. We will give you all the help you need to elaborate and refine your proposals. When you have completed your plans we will get together again and discuss them with a view to giving them effect. If we find that your plans are technically sound you may be sure that whatever resources are needed to implement them will be made available."
(But something extremely like that was said by Mr Nash, Mr Nord-meyer, Mr Parry, and Mr Skinner.')
With this encouragement the planners sit down to work upon their proposals, reduce them to as much detail as they can, and then return to the Government for further discussions. The Government then says: "We like this. You have here the layout sketches of a type of community new to New Zealand yet which is obviously a great improvement on existing types. We will support you in this. We realise that in doing so we will arouse a great hue and cry amongst our political enemies and amongst all those who hate and fear change, even though it be change for the better. So we will face the opposition boldly and firmly, publicly announce our support for your plans, and nail our colours to the mast.
"Then we will collaborate with you in producing the actual working drawings for a model, modern community. The best brains available will be invited to assist with the task. As soon as possible we will draw up a timetable for building development, so that the people of the areas concerned will know when the various services promised will actually be available. We will expect and require that the local people contribute what is reasonable and what they can; but clearly much outside assistance - financial and
otherwise - will be necessary, and this the State will supply. In the case of the consumer services we could not do better than follow in principle what was done so successfully in Greenbelt in the United States, where the American Government courageously fostered a consumers' co-operative economy. The health centres in your plan can be financed wholly from the Social Security funds. Your suggestion of £ for £ State subsidies for your community centres is sound and will be accepted. And now let's get on with the job."
If the Labour Government had taken this line, then indeed they would have justified the confidence felt in them by the leaders of Epuni, Naenae, and Taita when, in March 1946, they went to Mr Nash and his colleagues with their proposals for community planning. In a letter to those Ministers these leaders had said (see page 21):". . . we beg to submit that we have an important contribution to make to the solution of the problem of community development; . . . we are anxious to contribute something ourselves to build, under ideal conditions, a planned community. We believe that if advantage is taken of our unique opportunities we can set new standards in living conditions in urban communities which will be an inspiration to others and a credit to New Zealand."
If the Labour Government had taken that line, those "new standards in living conditions in urban communities" might by now have been well under way to achievement in the new State Housing settlements of northern Lower Hutt. But now, they are a lost dream.
So now, this is it. I have done what I could. It seems that there is no place for my talents and services. So I must go.
The End

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