Lack of Priorities for Core Infrastructure Fail Christchurch Residents [1]

In last year’s 2018-2028 Long Term Plan process, three options were suggested for the infrastructure strategy for this period. These were:

  • Option 1 – Medium: Roads, facilities and parks would be the key focuses for improvements. Water supply and stormwater assets would be maintained in current condition and wastewater assets would deteriorate. Capital expenditure $4185 million over 10 years, rates increases average 4.5%.
  • Option 2 – Low: Reduced budget compared to Option 1. Wastewater, water supply, stormwater and road assets would deteriorate. $3253 million over 10 years requires average rates increases of 3.7%.
  • Option 3 – High: Increased budget compared to option 1, additional projects to restore core infrastructure. Water and wastewater infrastructure provided for medium and long term growth areas. Expenditure $6248 million over 10 years, rates increases 6.3%.

If these were the only options completed they are fairly lacking, the core problem is the very large expenditure on Facilities which has been presented as essentially non negotiable, while core infrastructure can be deferred ad infinitum in the low or medium options.

The key concerns are that:

  • Large volumes of raw sewage (around 8 million cubic metres) were dumped in the city’s rivers immediately after the quakes and was ongoing for years afterwards. The Council’s consent to dump wastewater at the current levels expired recently and in 2016 it quietly applied to Ecan for a a new consent to continue dumping raw sewage at the levels that it has become accustomed to since the quakes. It is acknowledged rivers should be dredged to remove sediment but there is no provision for this in any part of the LTP. Currently the rate of overflows is around 8 times the national standard set by Water New Zealand.
  • Water supply infrastructure is said by at least one councillor to be in poor condition with many leaks being reported and the aging pipes network requires large scale renewals. The lack of priority to this infrastructure became obvious with the rushed program of well modification forced on the Council by the removal of its safe drinking water status last year, and consequent claims by John Mackie, a longtime CCC infrastrucure manager, that his department 3 Waters and Waste was severely under-resourced.
  • The Facilities program is not fully focused on renewing facilities damaged by the quakes, instead it introduces many new facilities at a time when there is still a great deal of repair work needed in infrastructure across the city. Significant savings could be found by cutting back the scope of some of the projects which one councillor has said are gold plated, for example a pool complex that includes a leisure centre when it could just be built with pools for a lower cost. The largest single project the Multi Purpose Arena does not utilise the full capacity very often and does not need to be fully developed all in one go, as we have lost sight of the fact that its predecessor developed to a much lower standard served Christchurch very well for decades. So the cost of this project could easily be spread out.

It is typical of councils to let core infrastructure such as water supply and wastewater deteriorate whilst they focus on building the more sexy projects and when the government offered $300 million to the city, $220 million was immediately requisitioned for the Multi Purpose Arena and $40 million was allocated to roads. The Council had previously attempted to fund the previously deferred renewals of below ground infrastructure through the SCIRT programme but Minister Brownlee refused to provide central government funding to bring all the assets to as new condition on the grounds that the Council had allowed much of the infrastructure to deteriorate over time and the government would not fund this deferred maintenance backlog.

Looking at the LTP as adopted the following changes were made to the draft plan, it appears that Option 1 was chosen and then amended as the numbers match:

  • Expenditure on wastewater has increased by $65 million to a total of $706 million. Pipe renewals budget increased by $51 million (total $359 million) and the $12 million for the Wainui wastewater scheme expansion brought forward two years to FY 27 and 28. This means the current sewage pollution of ground, waterways and the harbour at Wainui will continue unabated for the next eight years. Performance and service standards for City wastewater infrastructure will drop, which can only indicate that the overall network condition will deteriorate.
  • Stormwater budget was reduced by $12 million to total $666 million, mostly cut from the dredging budget for the Heathcote River. This dredging is a vital component of flooding risk reduction programmes. The adopted LTP states that flooding risk reduction to pre-earthquake standards will not be achieved within the next 30 years in some areas of the city.
  • Capital budget for roads, footpaths and transport increased by $28 million (total $1077 million). In particular $8 million extra is to go on road surface renewals. The budget for An Accessible City reduced 10% ($40 million total). Road condition over the next 10 years in the city will deteriorate at a faster rate than repairs can keep up with.

In short the current Council planning for the next 10 years is not addressing the needs for roading and underground infrastructure to even be maintained at current standards, let alone be brought back to pre EQ condition. This is an indication of a failure in leadership to ensure the most vital aspects of infrastructure are fit for purpose.

In the second part of this article we will look at avenues for possible savings from the Facilities programme over the next 10 years,