How Trim is your Berm? By Angela Caldin

I’ve learnt another new word in the last week or so, and that word is berm. It’s what we Brits would call a grass verge, and in the suburban streets of NZ, it lies between the pavement and the kerbside next to the road. The word makes me laugh a lot because it reminds me of Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther film who pronounced bump and lump with a French accent as bermp and lermp. Can you see where I’m coming from with this?

If you have these berms in your city landscape, someone has got to mow them. It so happens that residents in the former Auckland City Council area had their berms mowed courtesy of the Council, but residents in the other six territorial council areas did not have their berms mowed and had to get on with it themselves. Now there is only one Auckland Regional Council covering all the old areas, so the fact that residents in the City had their berms mowed presented something of an anomaly. Therefore, in July 2013, councillors voted to stop cutting the Auckland City berms and have one policy throughout the region at a saving of $3 million.

It does seem unfair that one particular area should have its berms mowed while in other areas people get on with mowing their own without any fuss. The cost to the council of mowing berms for the whole region would apparently be $12 million to $15 million which it claims it cannot afford without increasing rates. And yet there has been considerable disgruntlement among City residents who must now tend to the berm in front of their humble abode. There is concern about the elderly, the infirm and others who cannot manage the task, but presumably in other areas these problems have been overcome: neighbours have helped each other, contractors have been hired and other strategies put in place. There is also concern for the Council mowers who have lost their jobs.

Since becoming aware of the berm question, I’ve noticed while driving around the City area, that some berms are beautifully kept, closely mown with springy thick grass, while others are overgrown and straggly, sprouting all kinds of wild flowers. There’s a patchiness among the berms which some might find interesting, but which others might say is a bit messy. Some observe that if berms get really overgrown, they can encourage the accumulation of rubbish and the proliferation of vermin. Health and Safety issues start to loom.

It appears that these grassy patches between the kerb and the pavement are council property and council regulations say that berms cannot be covered by concrete or other impervious materials – which probably rules out Astroturf. Nor can residents beautify their berms by planting flowers or growing vegetables on them.   Permission may be given on very rare occasions, but this requires an application to Auckland Transport for a licence specific to the particular circumstances. Yet in spite of these restrictions, the responsibility for actually mowing the berms rests firmly with residents.

I find it hard to decide where I am on this. It seems to me that $15 million is not a huge amount in the overall Council budget and that it’s just a matter of priorities and caring for one’s assets. If the Council mows the berms that would provide employment for the teams of mowers needed and would ensure an overall uniformity which would be neat and pleasing to the eye. On the other hand, why shouldn’t Auckland City residents follow the example of the rest of the region, take pride in the appearance of their neighbourhood and mow their own berms, offering a helping hand to those who find the task difficult.

It’s what Emily would call a conundrum and I’m still pondering the question. All I do know is that having used the word berm over and over again in this blog, I’m finding it even funnier than I did when I started.






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