Wellington Omāroro Reservoir project: council approves $10m boost

4:27 pm on 4 June 2020

Wellington City Council has approved a nearly $10 million increase to the budget for the building of the Omāroro Reservoir.

Proposed Prince of Wales/Omāroro Reservoir Site.

Proposed Prince of Wales/Omāroro Reservoir Site. Photo: Wellington Water

Councillors agreed unanimously to the decision, which brings the total cost of the project up to $68m.

The new reservoir on a hill between the suburbs of Brooklyn and Mt Cook is considered to be of high significance to the city, and crucial to the city's resilience in the event of a major earthquake.

Crucially, it would add to the single day's worth of water storage available to meet demand in the event of a bulk water outage.

"It is absolutely critical," said Councillor Sean Rush. "This reservoir will provide safe drinking water, it will provide for future growth," Rush said.

"It is affordable, [and] there's not much choice in this regard if we want a future Wellington that is able to provide drinking water to its population, but also the resilience that is needed to ensure that the central city is not closed through a lack of water."

The price increase of $9.9m is due to an "unforeseen change in seismic standard" which accounts for $8.5m, "delays caused by Covid-19", which accounts for $1m, and "the difference between the estimate and post-tender price", which accounts for $400,000.

Councillor Iona Pannett said the rise in cost was disappointing.

"This is the second time we've come back with a cost increase: there could have been some understanding about what a new seismic standard meant.

"But we are where we are, and I guess we need to use this as a learning experience.

"We should not be putting preliminary costs in our budget, or at least with a qualifier. This has been part of the problem that as the project has changed or has gone through the different stages of design, the cost has increased."

Tighter management over the project

Councillors have expressed concern around Wellington Water's ability to manage the nearly $70m project.

An amendment tabled by councillor Fleur Fitzsimons, which had unanimous approval, sought to establish greater accountability for Wellington Water, with the council more present in the project's development.

It means there will be an independent engineer sitting on Wellington Waters' Major Projects board, which will report back to the council. Additionally, a senior council officer will represent the council on the project's Steering Group, who will report directly to councillors.

Fitzsimons said the changes were the result of escalating costs since the project was first visualised in 2013, when the budget stood at $17.9m. She said that cost was "controversially high at the time."

"I still have outstanding concerns about Wellington Water's ability to manage this project," she said.

"I do consider there is a much bigger issue here around how Wellington deals with major infrastructure projects. Wellington Water hasn't done a project of this scale and this magnitude and this cost in the past, and this is no reflection of the individuals in Wellington Water at this time.

"But we simply can't have such large scale infrastructure projects reliant on a small number of key individuals.

"We need a type of modern Ministry of Works, to make sure that Wellington's major infrastructure projects can be delivered on time and on budget."

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