Water on the brain: Napier's water woes a top concern for mayoral candidates

2:55 pm on 18 September 2019

Tackling Napier's water woes are top of the agenda for the city's four mayoral candidates.

The beautiful art deco town of Napier, New Zealand - as summer night approaches.

Napier's town centre. Photo: 123RF

All are pledging to get rid of chlorine that is blamed for producing dirty brown tap water in many parts of the city.

Chlorine was added to the whole network in November 2017 but the chemical binds with organic matter in the pipes and minerals in the water to produce a silty water that regularly blackens washings and bathtubs.

Two-term councillor and accountant Kirsten Wise, former Napier MP Chris Tremain, retailer David Hannay and motelier Steve Gibson were all promising to deliver cleaner, chlorine-free water if elected mayor.

The council estimated this could take several years of infrastructure upgrades and cost between $110 million and $150m to bring it up to scratch and cost up to $150m to bring the network up to a Danish or Netherlands water supply model.

But Kirsten Wise disagreed the price tag would be "anywhere near that high".

"Not based on the research I've done, and I've been looking into this for two years."

She had a plan that included meeting with Christchurch City Council to share what it had already learnt about the process, and investing in new technology that could detect leaks in the water system.

Napier mayorial candidate Chris Tremain

Chris Tremain. Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

A former National Party government minister, Mr Tremain said he would create a mayoral taskforce on the issue but a short term fix was unlikely.

"We've got up to 20 percent water loss from that network, so until we can deliver a secure network it's unlikely we are going to be able to remove chlorine from the system."

Mr Hannay believed there was no need for chlorine at all.

"Our water is pristine, and to prove that it is pristine is the fact that we give it away to China, and they do nothing to it."

Mr Gibson agreed and was pledging to install water filters in every Napier home.

"So you take the chlorine out of the water and put a filter just for drinking water. I'm talking about $100 to $200 systems ... and 20,000 households so you're looking at $2m to $4m. A lot cheaper than $150m," he said.

Cleaning up the council's consultation record and governance issues was also top of mind for all mayoral candidates.

The council was facing its second judicial review over consultation blunders and an independent inquiry was also underway following revelations staff monitored councillors' social media posts looking for code of conduct breaches.

Napier mayorial candidate Kirsten Wise

Kirsten Wise. Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

Ms Wise said a culture review was needed and if elected she would hold regular walk-in clinics so residents had more direct access to the mayor.

Mr Tremain said he would review the councillors' Code of Conduct but stronger leadership would negate the need for a culture review.

"If a council doesn't provide a vision and leadership itself then it does leave it up to the officials ... to fill a vacum."

Napier Mayoral candidate David Hannay.

David Hannay. Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

A former youth worker, Mr Hannay, said he entered politics to transform the Code, but admitted he didn't really want to be mayor.

"I have no ambition to be a politician, I have no ambition to be a mayor for a long period of time. My ambition is to change the Code of Conduct and to change the ethos of council and its management so it is more community spirited."

Mr Gibson, a former policeman and Manuwatu District Councillor, said he decided to run for mayor because of the council's decision to build a new $41m pool at Prebensen Drive instead of spending $20 fixing Onekawa Aquatic Centre -a cost he questioned.

Napier mayorial candidate Steve Gibson

Steve Gibson Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

His former council spent $6m renovating a pool, including a new learners pools, ablution block, a cafe and office block he said.

"They're a small council, they can't afford to waste money. Is it because we [Napier] is a big council that we get fleeced or throw money around?"

All candidates, except for Mr Hannay who is having heart surgery today, face off in their first major debate on Wednesday night.

With so many similar policies the race to become Napier's next mayor could come down to personality over politics.

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