20 Feb 2020

Meeting over Wellington's sewerage upgrade gets heated

7:12 am on 20 February 2020

Despite an urgent meeting about Wellington's ageing and leaking sewerage system it is still not clear when the problems are going to be fixed.

A man wearing an orange vest.

Wellington Water CEO Colin Crampton apologised at the meeting. Photo: RNZ/ Michael Cropp

The mayor and councillors met with city's water company yesterday but kept the public and the media out.

City councillor Fleur Fitzsimons was at the meeting, which she said at times got heated.

Fitzsimons was convinced there needed to be urgent action to upgrade sewerage and storm water pipes but said she left the discussion none the wiser about when that might happen.

"The frustrating thing is there was no clear answers about the investment needed to address the infrastructure issue and councillors made it really clear that we need direct clear answers about what's required to fix water infrastructure in Wellington."

What did emerge was an apology from Wellington Water.

It's chief executive, Colin Crampton, said they were honest and admitted bad communication with the council and residents was a key fault.

"When we have different information out there at different times, you know, people get confused.

"In hindsight that was unnecessary.

"We think we can really straighten our communications up and get that really right, even when there are issues and we can build trust and people can rely on council and Wellington Water to sort these issues out in a time frame they expect," he said.

It was yet another apology from the company, which last week was saying sorry to Island Bay residents who spent two nights without water.

Overnight another 36 homes in the suburb had no water for several hours because of a burst pipe.

Wellington City Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons

City councillor Fleur Fitzsimons says there needs to be urgent action, but doesn't see any clear plan of action. Photo: Supplied

These issues are in addition to the long-term disruption in the central city because of major repairs to a collapsed sewer.

But despite all the failings, Mayor Andy Foster said he was still backing Wellington Water.

He said the company had come up with some initial ideas to help solve the problems but it would need additional funding.

This would have to be on top of the $180 million the council already spends each year on the water pipes.

"We do spend, roughly speaking, a third of our budget on water, some of it's capital, some of it's operating and we are already projecting to increase that amount fairly significantly over an extended period of time," Foster said.

The Greater Wellington Regional Council was shut out of the meeting, despite being one of the six councils that own Wellington Water.

Councillor Daran Ponter said there had been an "out of sight, out of mind" approach from councils, which had contributed to the spate of problems across the city's underground infrastructure.

"We have billions of dollars worth of under investment in this sector.

"The issues that we have seen pop up over the Christmas period in Wellington are potentially just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the country as a whole."

Wellingtonians would have to wait if they wanted to see any change. Andy Foster said, with assets 100 years old, answers don't come quickly.

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