During the last days of 2016, various commentators reflecting on the events of that year have recently spoken of the apparent neglect of citizens’ basic concerns by their country’s politicians. For instance, the unemployed in the USA and Europe have felt disenfranchised by the globalisation of trade which has led to the closure of factories and the disappearance of many traditional jobs in their home countries. At the same time, tens of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Africa have been allowed to enter and encumber the social and political infrastructure of much of Europe. No wonder a majority of British citizens voted to exit the European Union and Donald Trump was elected U.S. President during that tumultuous year. But, for whatever reasons these events did occur, the fundamental motive of those voters seems to have been their desire to regain control from politicians who they felt no longer represented their views; who they felt no longer knew of, or sympathised with, their local needs.
This is not a new phenomenon. The need for local control of community affairs existed long before national politics and ideologies assumed command and influenced so much of everyday life; long before party politics transformed local representatives to national lapdogs.
In New Zealand, during the 1930s, there were some 700 local authorities serving the needs of a population of about 1.5 million. Long before the amalgamation of its many local bodies, infrastructure, and services to form the present ‘super-city’, Auckland consisted of as many as 17 local authorities, each with their own ideas as to how their districts and responsibilities could best be served. While the implementation of those ideas might directly benefit a borough’s comparatively small number of citizens, more often than not, they prejudiced the aspirations of the city as a whole.
But there have been exceptions. Newmarket’s Olympic Pool, envisaged and financed through the Local Government Loans Board in 1938 and opened on 17 February 1940, was a prime example of just such a local body initiative that provided an immense asset to Auckland. As the Auckland Star reported on opening day, “…the new Olympic swimming pool…is considered the finest of its kind in either Australia or New Zealand…the first of its kind in this Dominion.”
It is doubtful that a larger authority, and certainly not a national government, would have proceeded at the time with such a public amenity. The administrators of the day were too intent on planning roads and motorways that would never fully cope with the inundation of motor vehicles to come. Even the far-sighted Newmarket Borough Council, in line with the national aspirations of the time, borrowed £3500 more than the £15,500 it needed to build the Olympic Pool.
The additional finance was used to provide municipal parking areas in the borough. Even swimmers had to park somewhere.