Wellington Scoop

A tale of two cities (and sewage)

by Lindsay Shelton
What a difference between the Wellington and Hutt approaches to wastewater infrastructure problems. In the capital, new mayor Andy Foster has been quoted as saying it’s “appallingly bad luck” that two of his city’s major sewage pipelines collapsed within a month of each other. The new mayor of Hutt City has taken a tougher stance.

Campbell Barry says:

“What isn’t an option is to do nothing. We can’t allow what we’ve seen happen in … Wellington City to happen here in Lower Hutt.”

As Georgina Campbell reported in the NZ Herald, Hutt councillors were given a briefing this week on the infrastructure issues:

A damning report reveals an extra $270m needs to be pumped into Hutt City’s ageing water infrastructure, meaning the council would have to double its current budget for capital expenditure… Hutt City councillors have been briefed on the grim outlook this afternoon, which could be described as a day of reckoning after years of previous councils putting their heads in the sand.

Unlike Lower Hutt, Wellington city councillors have had no meetings this month, even though Wellington Water has confirmed it is close to full capacity dealing with the major pipeline collapses, and would be “struggling if anything else was to happen.”

In the same DomPost report where Wellington Water said the two collapses had brought it close to capacity, Andy Foster said Wellington spends about $180 million a year on infrastructure and “according to our asset management plan that’s about the right number. But it will be rising over a period of time and as pipes begin to age.”

Compare these brief remarks with the considerable detail – and concern – in Wednesday’s release from the Hutt council:

Hutt City Council Chief Executive Jo Miller says … “In Lower Hutt, around 60% of the city’s water infrastructure needs to be renewed in the next 30 years. On top of that, the city is expecting population to grow by 10-20% in that time. The data and research available to us now demonstrates that comprehensive planning and investment is needed. This is not an issue we can afford to defer. We don’t want to be in the same position as others, where water systems have failed or are failing, putting people and places at risk.”

And Campbell Barry says that this week’s briefing has shown that

“… we need to do more when it comes to our core infrastructure. We are signalling that a significant investment in underground water infrastructure to improve performance and support growth must be one of our top priorities. Now is the time to plan well for the future and make funding decisions that will give the city the most control over the circumstances it faces, rather than having the circumstance control the city.”

When Wellington councillors have their first meeting next month, they should be expecting a similar detailed briefing. The basic information is reported today by the NZHerald:

A third of Wellington’s wastewater pipes are either in poor or very poor condition, making them in the worst state of the largest centres across the country.

So, like their colleagues in the Hutt, Wellington councillors should be ready to make some important decisions. And if they need a further reminder of what needs doing, then there was today’s burst watermain, which closed Tasman Street all afternoon and cut off the water to more than fifty houses. Not just bad luck.


  1. Wellington City Council, 31. January 2020, 12:03

    Due to a burst pipe at the intersection of Tasman and John St, Tasman St will be closed to traffic for the next few hours. A detour is in place to Rugby St for those who need to access Tasman St. WgtnWaterNZ are working to resolve the issue. [via twitter]

  2. Traveller, 31. January 2020, 12:04

    More bad luck?

  3. Wuhan Fruitbat Co., 31. January 2020, 15:24

    Who cares? We’re getting a shiny new convention centre!!!

  4. michael, 31. January 2020, 15:51

    Given what has been going on here since before Christmas regarding Wellington’s old failing infrastructure, it is inconceivable that Wellington City Councillors have had no scheduled meetings throughout January to consider this issue.

  5. michael, 31. January 2020, 16:04

    It would seem that unless WCC are prepared to upgrade the city infrastructure they are going to need to pay a lot more for Wellington Water’s emergency services. False economy in the long term!

    Wellington Water Limited: We’re a council-controlled organisation (CCO) jointly owned by the Hutt, Porirua, Upper Hutt and Wellington City Councils, and the Regional Council. Each shareholding council owns its own water services assets (pipes, pump stations, reservoirs, and treatment plants), and decides on the LEVEL OF SERVICE it will purchase from us, the policies it will adopt, and INVESTMENTS IT WILL MAKE (after considering our advice) in consultation with its respective communities.

  6. Lezie McGrind, 31. January 2020, 17:14

    Were the pipes damaged in the K earthquake?
    Do we have subsidence?

  7. Lindsay, 1. February 2020, 10:07

    Mayor Foster and his council should be embarrassed by the remarks of Campbell Barry:
    “We can’t allow what we’ve seen happen in … Wellington City to happen here in Lower Hutt.”

  8. michael, 1. February 2020, 12:59

    @ Lindsay: Absolutely agree with you about the apparent lack of urgency from the WCC and their attitude of waiting till pipes burst to do anything. If this is not the case, we can hardly be blamed for thinking so, as this council has been so uncommunicative over the past few months we can be forgiven for thinking they are all away on holiday.

  9. BHS, 2. February 2020, 7:12

    It’s not just the major pipes as the laterals need maintenance too. Tinakori Rd is a problem, with revolting stuff seeping out of the drains yesterday.

  10. Ron Oliver, 2. February 2020, 12:57

    Just like the song. “Don’t Worry. Be Happy…Just enjoy and do the things that you wish”.
    At the very least our council has a spare Town Hall and a disused library building that they can flog off to their corporate buddies. As we are constantly being reminded by the media, private business is much better at doing things better. Aren’t they? I look forward to the coming Parliamentary Elections to see what kind of miracles they will be able to perform for us. Always in hope.

  11. Joanne Craven, 4. February 2020, 18:07

    I’m so over the sump trucks 24/7 travelling to and from moa point. The smell is so sickening driving past and it makes you sick; plus dumping at the tip so all who live in the valley on a calm night or day, we will all suffer from smell. [via Facebook.]

  12. michael, 6. February 2020, 13:16

    WCC should sit down and listen to Lower Hutt’s new mayor and CEO. The priority for Campbell Barry is for his Council to get back to basics and invest in the services and infrastructure that support all of our people to thrive. And as CEO Jo Miller explains: “There has to be a better match between the scale of ambition and priority and the resources we have available to deliver them.”

  13. Henry Filth, 6. February 2020, 15:13

    Make it three cities – one of them very old. . .
    Sorry if it’s paywalled, but you get the idea.