Mayor's Blog

February 2019 - We have work to do to improve infrastructure

What did you learn at work today Dad?

I learned that 1.5 million litres of raw sewage would fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Gross.

Indeed.

Earlier this year a failure at our Mangati Pump Station resulted in 1.5 million litres of sewage entering an urban stream and pretty much killed everything in it before finding its way out to sea.

Council’s sewer network is old.

When the pipes and pump stations were built, each of them reflected the modern standard. But most of them are now many decades old.

The standard of old was that you had a sewer main with no back-up, connected to a pump station with no back-up, pumping sewage into the next main with no back-up to the treatment plant.

When referring to ageing infrastructure there are two key attributes to consider:

  • One is that eventually the components get to the end of their life and are far more likely to fail than new equipment.
  • Two is that the design and configuration of old equipment no longer meets modern standards and expectations.

Te Henui Walkway is a great example.

Many of the hundreds of walkers, runners and cyclists who use this fantastic community walkway every day are oblivious to the fact it was built as part of the construction of a sewer main transporting effluent from the Merrilands and Welbourn areas. Look carefully and you will notice the pipe bridges and manholes are dotted all the way down the valley.

It was news to me that at the river mouth the pipe carries up to 700 litres a second of raw effluent, there is no back-up pipe and if anything happened to it, that effluent would be into the river and on the beach in seconds.

It was designed that way. No back-up pipe, no back-up storage. Our sewers were designed in a day when it was acceptable to our community to pollute waterways and the sea when a problem occurred.

Investments to improve the performance of our infrastructure haven’t kept up with changes in public sentiment about the environment. We have reached a point where our community is no longer prepared to accept spills.

We have eight million litres of emergency storage at the Waitara Pump Station - that gives three days of dry-weather storage but it drops to 13 hours in wet weather. The cost of building this much storage is estimated to be in the order of $21m. With 40 pump stations across the district, most of which require additional storage to some degree or another, it’s easy to see how these costs multiply upwards quickly. But it is not all doom and gloom.

We are investing to progressively improve the environmental performance of our infrastructure and here is a table outlining the number of incidents that have occurred on our sewage systems in the past four years.
 

Year

2014/15

2015/16

2016/17

2017/18

Number of Incidents

49

27

23

17

 

Around 70% of our overflows are due to storm water flooding our system during heavy rain events. These are the most difficult and expensive to deal with. The next leading cause (20% last year) is blockages caused by our community putting things like fat, grease and wet wipes in our wastewater system. These should be relatively cheap to resolve if we can raise awareness in the community.

Finally, infrastructure failures account for the lowest number of overflows (10% last year). While many people consider the below ground assets less important than the highly visible parks, libraries, pools, roads and footpaths etc, it is my view they are some of our most critical, forming the very foundations of a modern society and ensuring we effectively manage and where possible fully mitigate the impact we are having on our environment.

So we have some work to do to progressively improve our infrastructure in line with public expectations and our ability to fund the work and our community ensuring we don’t tip things down the drain which lead to environmental harm.

Building a Lifestyle Capital
Neil Holdom

January 2019 - Reality bites: our Just Transition

In April 2018 our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the Coalition Government’s intention to transition New Zealand to a net zero-carbon economy by 2050, pushing our country to the front of the queue of nations looking to address climate change.

Much of the media commentary looked at the failure of the Government to follow due process around the ban on future offshore oil and gas permits, the lack of consultation with industry or iwi, the damage that failure had on our reputation as a stable investment destination and speculation on the impact of the policy on Taranaki’s economy.

But little has been written about what a net carbon zero 2050 Aotearoa will actually look like.

New Zealand produces around 80 million tonnes of carbon annually and our forestry sector absorbs around 20 million tonnes, leaving a balance of 60 million tonnes to be dealt with.

According to Motu Economics the average Kiwi household is responsible for about 20 tonnes of carbon a year. This comprises things like petrol or diesel, natural gas and also the process emissions involved in creating the products we consume like food and other goods.

So picture the challenge ahead for Kiwis to achieve net carbon zero in 31 years.

What we are talking about is a fundamental change in the way we power our economy. A shift that will drive a massive reduction in our use of high energy density fuels like coal, oil, petrol, diesel and gas and convert most of that demand to electricity, requiring tens of billions of dollars of new electricity generation and major technological breakthroughs in energy storage.

Consider every petrol or diesel powered vehicle or machine you own and that in 30 years time its equivalent will likely need to be electrical with some of the heavier vehicles  and machines powered by hydrogen. That’s everything from cars to trucks to weed eaters, lawnmowers, earthmoving equipment to boats.

Tourism and farming are our biggest export earners and think about just how we will pull the carbon out of airlines, tractors or fertilisers and don’t even mention the cow farts.

The change, known as the Just Transition, being signalled by our Government will be as significant as the change we have seen in our digital economy over the past 20 years.

And if we are to go anywhere close to meeting the 2050 target without the need to close industry, ration energy, face blackouts or swallow massive increases in household electricity bills we will need to plan and invest early.

2019 will be the defining year for the Coalition Government as everybody watches to see whether they are prepared to match the talk with the money critical to making things happen.

2050 seems a long way off but, in terms of reinventing an economy, is a tight timeframe and Taranaki, as the anchor of New Zealand’s current energy infrastructure, will be ground zero for the Just Transition.

It will require every bit of our innovative, can-do attitude and Government investments on a scale not seen for decades for New Zealand to hit this target while still being an affordable and attractive place to live.

Building a Lifestyle Capital
Mayor Neil Holdom

Funding our future

At NPDC we are developing a plan for the next 10 years of growth and development of our district with a vision for the next 30 years. We are both excited and ambitious for the future of Taranaki.
 
But growth and development comes at a cost and we have a limited number of options:
  1. Do nothing new (or less and watch assets and infrastructure fail)
  2. Borrow to fund new developments (our children pay)
  3. Increase rates to fund new developments (we pay)
  4. Develop new revenue streams to help fund new developments.

Historically NPDC has elected to go with options two and three but we are looking to add option four as a long term strategy to grow community wealth and keep downward pressure on rate growth.

NPDC has large tracts of land and we are considering recycling a small percentage of that land to generate additional revenue. Half of the proceeds of any land developments help fund large capital projects which could include a coastal walkway extension from Bell Block to Waitara, water infrastructure, an aquatic centre redevelopment, a multi sports stadium or other big ticket items which we believe ratepayers will struggle to fund alone.

The other half of the proceeds would be reinvested by acquiring land in areas of the district where houses will be required in a decade or so, growing NPDC’s overall land holdings suitable for development, in tandem with ensuring the revenue generated from the sale of public land is perpetually reinvested to create a new wealth fund for future generations.

Many councils are at or close to their debt limits and simply don't have any options but NPDC does and we are looking to have these conversations now, as opposed to simply breaking the bad news in a decade.

We are committed to ensuring annual rate increases do not exceed 5 per cent whilst ensuring we do not run down our assets, that our taps do not run dry, that we do not reduce services and that we continue to invest in quality facilities and growing our economy.

So as a community we have to make some tough decisions. NPDC has been examining many options and one of these is the future of the council land which is currently leased to the Fitzroy Golf Club.

The course forms a fantastic green belt separating the coast from the suburb and the first thing to make clear is we want to ensure that we keep a wide green belt around the walkway and coast forever.

We have indicated to the club that NPDC supports its long term future on site, potentially at a reduced nine holes. The club does get a lot of casual players through which means more than just the 250 members enjoy the exclusive use of this land. Maybe 3,000 people a year.

But there are 80,000 people in our district and 34,600 rateable properties. We do not believe our ratepayers can handle double digit rate rises. So we have started a conversation about options, about funding the future of our district and about creating wealth. And to do that some people will get upset and some people may have to give something up. These are big serious conversations and it is time to start having them.

We are looking long term and asking the hard questions. How do we find a balance between rates, revenue, growth, services and the ability of our ratepayers to fund it all. We invite you to join this conversation.

Building a Lifestyle Capital 
Mayor Neil Holdom