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Radical new thinking for infrastructure possible

17 March 2005

Radical new thinking for infrastructure possible - As costs look to rise sharply in future

More of the same or radical new thinking? And what will it all cost?

These are the questions that Waitakere City will have to grapple with as it decides how to provide infrastructure for the future as the city’s population sets to double.

Councillors were yesterday presented with the range of options that will have to be confronted by both the city and the region in providing water, stormwater, wastewater, solid waste, cemetery services and public toilets, as population expands.

‘This is a very timely discussion for the Council and the public to be having,” says Councillor Penny Hulse, chair of the Council’s City Development Committee.

“There are some hard decisions to be faced and they have to be faced now and they also need to be decided by the community together with the council. We have to provide new infrastructure ahead of demand – or at least in step with demand. This is for health and safety reasons. Good water and waste systems keep our cities healthy and ensure that we manage growth in a planned way. We are just not allowed to fall behind,” she says.

Councillors were told that “more of the same” was guaranteed to be the most expensive option and, while costs would have to rise, new thinking could provide the services in a more affordable way.

These are the issues that will soon be discussed with residents, under the Water and Sanitary Services Assessment required under the Local Government Act.

Councillors heard how costs associated with the Three Waters (stormwater, wastewater and water supply) would rise significantly as a result of a number of factors including much tougher regional environmental requirements now starting to take effect and the need to restore ageing infrastructure while providing new systems to cope with growth.

They also heard that while traditional systems called for centralised services connected by thousands of kilometres of pipes, pumping stations and other infrastructure, modern thinking and technology allowed a more simple approach.

The traditional approach also encouraged waste with only 3% of drinking water being used for cooking or drinking and the rest being used to flush toilets, wash clothes, cars and people, water gardens and fill swimming pools.

Local solutions could reduce water consumption by as much as 25% and a variety of ways to do this is being looked at including the greater use of water tanks on houses and using new water efficient appliances and plumbing systems. Putting a higher value of water through higher charges would also help limit demand.

Population growth also meant the city would confront major issues around wastewater in the not too distant future. Because about 70% of water flowing into houses and businesses flows out again as waste water, any increases in water usage would result in an increase in wastewater. Meanwhile the major central services such as Mangere Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Western Interceptor are running out of capacity.

Councillors were told that the costs of new infrastructure – even with local solutions – could not be met from the current rates envelope and they would have to consider the option of charging for wastewater on an user pays basis.

Another option that was offered was that Councils should work together to maximise their co-operation, maximise design efficiencies and to increase their buying power.

This has been demonstrated recently with the decision by Waitakere and North Shore to Work together on a new joint rubbish collection, recycling and inorganic collection services.

Even more radical solutions were put up for consideration to extend the life of the cemetery. It is currently expected to run out of usable land in about 15 years.

The most conservative option was to use more of the land that is currently set aside as bush areas. The most radical was the concept of public mausoleums which are becoming very popular overseas.

The Council will begin discussing the many issues and options raised under the Water and Sanitary Services Assessment, with the public from 18 April 2005.

ENDS

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