Watercare continues the blame game

Watercare appears to be toeing the line of its paymaster Auckland Council who want to continue the blame game regarding housing supply.

Not willing to concede that the Council have stuffed Auckland they are trying desperately to blame everyone – from landowners to property developers – instead of accepting responsibility. Talk about being sensitive.

The property industry and I have been saying for a while that the issue is Council refuse to build the infrastructure and are using sewers, potable water and roads to stymie the expansion of Auckland. Some weeks back I pointed out that there is now only capacity for 45,000 dwellings to connect to the infrastructure.

So what does Auckland Council do? They shove Watercare out to pitch a story about expenditure that’s over a long time frame and to tell a fat pork pie.

Most of the article is talking up a storm about infrastructure works that replace and improve the stuffed existing infrastructure servicing areas of Auckland. It’s not for new areas. It’s all the deferred maintenance and asset management playing catch-up with a bit more capacity to allow for more apartments in certain areas.

Like new big sewer mains that connect central Auckland suburbs back to Mangere and a Hunua water connection that terminates at the water tank in Ponsonby. They are things in places where people already live, not where the city needs to be growing into, like the edges of the city.

Watercare Services is catering for 195,000 new Auckland dwellings in the next decade, and is working to expand the fresh and waste water networks to cope with this growth.

But Raveen Jaduram, Watercare chief executive, admits the organisation does not really expect that many dwellings to be built.

“The actual number will be significantly less but we’re catering for that bigger number. We have to be ahead of the growth so we built infrastructure well before it’s required,” he said. ?

This Friday, Watercare – a council controlled organisation, wholly owned by the Auckland Council – will release its asset management plan which sets out how it will cater for Auckland growth in the next 20 years.

That spells out what infrastructure it will deliver, where, when and how much it will cost.

“At the moment, our networks have the capacity to allow 45,000 new homes to connect today. Over the next 10 years, we will expand that to provide capacity for a further 195,000 new homes,” he said.

“We’re going to spend $4.9 billion over the next 10 years. Watercare is self-funding so we don’t get any money from council and we don’t pay any dividends so all that will come from our customers and those who create growth.

Around 47 per cent of the $4.9 billion will come from existing revenue, 20 per cent from its infrastructure growth charge (new dwelling connections) and the rest from bank borrowing.

“We do not have a problem to fund the infrastructure that’s required for growth. So growth funds us. If there’s growth, there’s more charges and therefore there’s more money,” Jaduram said.

The biggest Watercare project currently under way is the $376 million Hunua 4 water main, which is designed to increase the capacity of the water network across Auckland and is due to be finished by 2020.

But the biggest planned is the $950 million “Central Interceptor” to increase wastewater network capacity, replace ageing infrastructure, and reducing wastewater overflows.

Construction on this is set to start in 2019.

Jaduram said he was not concerned about the idea recently floated by Prime Minister John Key of a new urban development authority or the prospects of privatising infrastructure construction,

“We’re not a monopoly. There’s no law in New Zealand that prevents anyone else from supplying water and waste water services. The reason they don’t is because costs are too high. So they want us to do it. If someone is doing a subdivision in the middle of nowhere, we say to them put your own rainwater tanks and septic tanks and wastewater treatment plants in. But they [the developers] would prefer we did,” he said.

Really? Property developers actually don’t want to build sewerage and water treatment plants? Total trollop.

I know that some developers have built water treatment plants with embedded networks using aquifers and artesian water supplies. Sewers are a different story. Nobody can get consents because the local authority – Auckland Council – won’t allow them too. So no – it’s not possible.

I also happen to know that there are plenty of developers who have proposed the same only to be shut down by Council.

I wouldn’t have to scratch deeply to will find developers who wanted to construct their own infrastructure but cannot obtain planning consent to do it.

Sure, there might not be a specific legislative impediment to someone else competing in the infrastructure arena – but the notion that property developers would easily obtain discharge consents, and Resource Consents for sewerage treatment activities, is absolutely absurd.

See if one can find ‘sewerage treatment’ within any activity table that exists in the seven Operative District Plans or the PAUP. It’s not there. And that is deliberate.

Auckland Council want to control the lot. And they won’t consent to anyone playing in their space.

It’s sad that they have to whip their CCOs into toeing the corporate line. And it’s worse that they are stupid enough to make statements that can be easily countered.


– NZ Herald