29 Jan 2024

'Going to take decades to fix': Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau after water woes meeting

4:50 pm on 29 January 2024
Tory Whanau

File photo. Wellington mayor Tory Whanau. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Wellington's quake damaged town hall repair job could be a casualty of the city's water leak crisis.

The town hall has been closed to the public in 2013 after being deemed earthquake prone - and a $147 million upgrade is underway.

Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau met the local government minister Simeon Brown about the city's troubled water network on Monday and said central and local government need to work together.

Whanau said the meeting was "very constructive and positive".

But she told Midday Report she was open to some council plans being put on hold to pay for the work on the water pipes.

"That is all on the table now especially noting the seriousness and how much the minister wants to prioritise this.

"We have a workshop on the 31st before council to go through not only water but some LTP [Long-Term Plan] briefings as well. We will be looking at projects and seeing what might be able to be delayed."

After seeking further comment, Whanau told RNZ officers are working through options to increase water funding and that they will be workshopping them on Wednesday. The project includes strengthening and refurbishing the town hall.

Whanau said in the short term, they were working to fix the pipes and leaks to avoid a repeat of the current issues next summer.

"But the solution for water infrastructure, it unfortunately is long term. I think what the public needs to realise is that it's actually going to take decades to fix the state of our pipes, and that will take the government and all of our local councils working together."

Inside the Wellington Town Hall.

Inside the Wellington Town Hall. Photo: RNZ / Laura Dooney

Discussions with the minister included leaky pipes that have contributed to the Hutt Valley, Wellington and Porirua preparing for an acute water shortage this summer.

She said there needed to be a look at financing tools to get the cost of pipes off their books so that they can also focus on other projects in the LTP.

At present, Wellington is in level 2 water restrictions with a move to more severe restrictions being considered, while at the same time, over 40 percent of of the city's drinking water is being lost through leaks.

Whanau said she felt she and Brown were on the same page when it came to the water infrastructure.

She said while the meeting was "a general catch up about water infrastructure", she said they did talk about how the government could help support that.

"Things we still need to work on is what reform might look like."

Whanau said she reiterated a commitment to water infrastructure by reminding him the council had invested $110 million this financial year and would boost that in the Long Term Plan.

She said they also showed a commitment to water meters as one of the tools to conserve water.

"We are here very willing and enthusiastic to collaborate with both him and our regional stakeholders to address this issue," she said.

"We need to work together to figure out what that model will look like, so it is early days, but we do know that for every council, water infrastructure has to remain a top priority."

Following the meeting Brown said in a statement: "I met with Mayor Tory Whanau this morning to discuss the water situation facing Wellington. It was a positive meeting. She reiterated her commitment to provide the information requested by the first of February. I look forward to receiving the information."

The minister will meet with Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy on Monday afternoon.

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