Hunger strike threat­ened

Cou­ple left heart­bro­ken over leaky home with no as­sis­tance from coun­cil

Manawatu Guardian - - FRONT PAGE - By ALEXAN­DER ROBERT­SON

A Manawatu man has pledged to start a hunger strike af­ter four years of bat­tling with the heart­break of a leaky and struc­turally de­fec­tive home.

It's been a year since Les­ley Thomas and Ge­orge Grif­fiths, both in their 50s, first went pub­lic with the story of their leaky home. Now Ge­orge has hit rock bot­tom.

He has given the Manawatu¯ District Coun­cil MDC no­tice he'll start a hunger strike on Mon­day if it doesn't step in and help.

Just over four years ago, the pair bought their home half way up the Ruahine Ranges in the Po­hang­ina Val­ley, hop­ing to cre­ate a peace­ful haven for peo­ple suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion, and their fam­i­lies.

In 2009, Grif­fiths' son Ryan took his life at the age of 16.

“When Ryan passed away we got some peace be­ing up high. Be­ing up high, you got away from things and you can put things into per­spec­tive.”

Ge­orge said some­thing was not right with New Zealand's alarm­ing sui­cide sta­tis­tics and they wanted to help.

“You've got the vic­tims of peo­ple who take their lives, but you've also got the peo­ple who are left be­hind with the loss.”

He and Les­ley hoped the prop­erty could be­come a re­treat to help oth­ers in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion, but their peace­ful haven turned out to be a night­mare they were un­able to wake from.

Ex­perts say the house should never have re­ceived a Code Com­pli­ance Cer­tifi­cate from the MDC.

Af­ter mov­ing in, they dis­cov­ered sig­nif­i­cant short­com­ings in the way the home was built. Ex­perts say the house should never have re­ceived a Code Com­pli­ance Cer­tifi­cate from the MDC.

Ge­orge's health is al­ready at risk from a past ac­ci­dent and a heat­ing sys­tem in the house was too dan­ger­ous to use be­cause of poor in­stal­la­tion.

To keep warm over win­ter, the cou­ple have shifted their bed to the lounge, a makeshift camp­site they de­scribed as em­bar­rass­ing.

Jeff Twigge of NZ House Sur­veys, took his re­port to a coun­cil meet­ing in Septem­ber last year to shed light on what he had found.

He told the coun­cil he had “thrown them a bone” in the re­port and the coun­cil had two op­tions:

“One is to pick this bone up, run with it and seek to re­solve it with my clients. The other op­tion is to do what a dog does and seek to bury that bone.”

Coun­cil­lor Bar­bara Cameron said the meet­ing “was not a place” to dis­cuss the case and the coun­cil moved on to other mat­ters.

Since go­ing pub­lic a year ago the cou­ple have had mul­ti­ple meet­ings with the coun­cil, but have been told the only so­lu­tion is to take the coun­cil to court — an ac­tion the cou­ple say they can­not af­ford to do. Ge­orge and Les­ley's case is not iso­lated.

An­other cou­ple in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion — Mil­ton and Jean Ped­ley took on the MDC over an

al­legedly in­valid Code Com­pli­ance Cer­tifi­cate.

The Ped­leys spent nearly half a mil­lion dol­lars, tak­ing their case as far as the High Court but even­tu­ally ran out of money.

“We’ve been through the court process,” Mil­ton Ped­ley said. “We thought we’d be right, but we lost all the way so the courts out as far as I’m con­cerned. I’d never waste my time again with them. The coun­cil are un­touch­able and they’ll keep it that way as long as they can.”

Ped­ley said there was no jus­tice for any­one who was hon­est, and democ­racy would only ever work if peo­ple were hon­est.

With the Ped­leys’ warn­ing, Grif­fiths has cho­sen a dif­fer­ent course of ac­tion.

This week the cou­ple hand­de­liv­ered a let­ter to MDC chief ex­ec­u­tive Richard Tem­pler, warn­ing Grif­fiths will go on a hunger strike if the coun­cil does not take ac­tion to fix the short­com­ings.

Grif­fiths’ de­ci­sion has not been made lightly and he feels the coun­cil has given them no other op­tion.

Lo­cal Fo­cus asked Richard Tem­pler and mayor He­len War­boys for com­ment but they re­fused, both say­ing the mat­ter was sub­ject to lit­i­ga­tion.

Lo­cal Fo­cus also con­tacted all coun­cil­lors and all but one said the same thing.

Coun­cil­lor Steve Biel­ski said the case was in the hands of coun­cil man­age­ment.

“Well first of all it’s a man­age­ment mat­ter, but as a coun­cil­lor I’m voted in to rep­re­sent the peo­ple of the Manawatu¯ District, my heart does go out to Les­ley and Ge­orge and the sit­u­a­tion they

‘We thought we’d be right, but we lost all the way so the courts out as far as I’m con­cerned. I’d never waste my time again with them. The coun­cil are un­touch­able and they’ll keep it that way as long as they can.’ — Mil­ton Ped­ley

are in,” he said.

Biel­ski said he didn’t be­lieve it was real­is­tic for most peo­ple in such a sit­u­a­tion to launch le­gal pro­ceed­ings.

“I don’t know how many fam­i­lies in the Manawatu¯ that could ac­tu­ally do that (lead a court case).

“To me, there must be a bet­ter way of han­dling this that is fair and rea­son­able to both sides that there is ac­count­abil­ity met, and good­will and the law is met.”

With the days count­ing down to the start of his hunger strike on Mon­day Oc­to­ber 8, Grif­fiths, Thomas and many oth­ers in the com­mu­nity con­tinue to hope the coun­cil would come to the ta­ble and ne­go­ti­ate a res­o­lu­tion.

PHOTO / ALEXAN­DER ROBERT­SON

The house in the Ruahine Ranges.

PHOTO / ALEXAN­DER ROBERT­SON

Les­ley Thomas and Ge­orge Grif­fiths.

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