It’s the Infrastructure, Stupid

One of the latest regulations imposed by local councils on new houses being built is some form of stormwater retention, to assist with the issue of flooding in prone areas. It seems that these days, most areas are prone to flooding, but it appears that not all local councils are making this requirement – yet.


If you are building a new home, there are a number of requirements that your local council might require you to meet. Depending on where you are located, one requirement might be for stormwater detention.

[…] During storms and a heavy downpour of rain a lot of stormwater can be generated increasing the risks of floods in urban areas. This is worsened by increasing residential densities and expanding industrial and commercial buildings that increase pressure on existing underground drainage infrastructure. Many councils consider increasing the capacity of existing drainage to cater to increased stormwater flow as being infeasible due to space and cost constraints. Since councils are unable to reasonably deal with the issue alone, the burden of responsibly is often placed on homeowners to help make their property’s stormwater run-off more manageable.

Hang on a minute. Councils cannot increase the capacity of existing drainage infrastructure because of…. cost?

[…] Stormwater sensitive design can be planned for during the development of a property. There are also more natural techniques that involved maintaining existing property topography, vegetation, deep-rooted trees and minimising covering of natural ground surface with concrete surfaces. New houses often need to have on-site detention facilities constructed as part of their home drainage system. Some include water tanks or concrete basins beneath driveways, designed to capture stormwater runoff from a residential lot and hold it a little longer to reduce the impact of flooding. The stored water drains slowly through a small opening near the base of the tank to the stormwater system. When many properties in flood prone areas have these detention systems, the downstream flood ‘peak’ during large storms is reduced and flood damage is minimised.

-National Poly Industries

The estimated cost of these stormwater retention tanks will add at least $2,000 to each new house. It may not seem like much, but it is yet another cost imposed by Councils, to do the work that they should be doing themselves.

It won’t make much difference anyway, at least, not for a while. The retention tanks are only being added to new builds which means that it will be a long time before a significant number of houses are fitted with them. That being the case, do not expect the flooding situation to improve in the near future.

But my point in all of this is, if Councils are not able to increase the capacity of existing drainage infrastructure because of cost, then what exactly do we pay rates for? Would it not be reasonable to assume that rates are paid to cover the provision of existing services, plus to allow Councils to create a reserve for infrastructure improvement and expansion?

Every time there is a flood somewhere (and we have had some bad ones) the media and left-wing politicians jump on the bandwagon and blame climate change. Actually, that is not quite right. Climate change is blamed for the storm, and rising sea levels are blamed for the floods. Very neat and tidy. But I think most of us can already guess that if infrastructure maintenance and upgrades had kept up with population growth and systems had been properly maintained, we would not be in the situation we are now, where every time it rains heavily, we get flooding.

In other words, don’t blame global warming, blame the local Council. Because, wherever you live, your local Council has almost certainly been guilty of failing to maintain and upgrade the infrastructure of your town or city. The exception to this may be Christchurch, but of course, this is a special case because of the earthquakes and no doubt the upgrades were not funded from the rates take in that case either.

But what really makes me mad is the fact that rates payments have been growing exponentially at the same time as population growth. Well, of course, that is true.  In 1998, the population of Auckland was approximately 1 million. Now, as we all know, it is 1.5 million. A 50% increase in population means a commensurate increase in rates. In Wellington, the increase is not quite so large – 434,000 in 1998 to 513,000 today and Christchurch has gone from 330,000 in 1998 to 386,000 currently. So, both cities have had a population increase of 20% or more in the last 20 years and the extra rates haul that goes with it.

Councils can’t cope with the infrastructure because of population growth? But they take the extra money that population growth provides. So what exactly do they do with it? We should be awash with services. But, we are not.

To add further insult to injury, few towns or cities have annual rates increases of less than 5%. To be honest, it is really starting to worry me that, as we get older, our biggest issue may be finding the money to pay the rates. Westport Council (Buller District Council) has decided to attempt to double the rates of homeowners on lifestyle blocks even though they basically use no services, as they are all on tank water and septic tanks. They have a rubbish collection and not much else.  Did you make the mistake of thinking, like me, that the payment of rates is a payment for services received? Yes, you can laugh at silly little Westport but how can I put this? Coming to a town near you real soon?

Here is my prediction for the future. In 10 years time, all houses will have stormwater retention tanks (probably because insurance companies will insist on it). I predict that all, or most houses will also have rainwater tanks because water supply will become less and less reliable.

Councils will give up pretending that they provide these essential services, as more and more people realise that they will have to protect themselves from infrastructure failure at the hands of local Councils. But, if all this turns out to be true (and I’m pretty certain it will) you may expect your rates to reduce or at least to not increase by much. Well, I’d also bet on the fact that rates will still go up by 5% per annum, or more because…well…that is what Councils do. In fact, these days, it is all that they do

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Accountant. Boring. Loves tax. Needs to get out more. Loves the environment, but hates the Greens. Has been called a dinosaur. Wears it with pride.

To read my previous articles click on my name in blue.