"All for nothing?" - Letter to Editor, Chronicle 14 November 2016 - forgive me, yet more about sludge ... waste ... and wasted time?
I understand that the four new Councillors parading under the banner Whanganui Beyond 2030 and the three Councillors who were against building the new plant may now be inclined to accept the base plant as planned. Don’t tell me that common sense has finally prevailed? However I also understand that they are intent on either doing away with the sludge dryer entirely or on scaling it back significantly. Their argument is that Imlay’s waste is no longer part of the equation.
The silly thing is that the dryer is probably the most logical and cost-effective component of the new plant, which the group continues to fail to comprehend or chooses not to. An earlier major rethink of the plant design and its costs was brought about by the announcement from Bonnie Glen and its sister operation, Hampton Downs, that they might double their charges for accepting wet sludge or prohibit it entirely. Bonnie Glen now won’t take wet sludge at all. For us this obviously means a loss of control over the process and its cost, and it creates huge risks. Adding the dryer enables us to retake control, providing three alternatives for disposing of the dried sludge, including in the form of pellets which could be applied to land e.g. such as fertiliser to our large blocks of coastal sand country and reducing operating costs.
We continue to see this “capital cost reduction at almost any cost” mentality. Even scaling back the dryer if that were possible might save $1-2 million in capital, but then what of the city’s capacity to attract new industry, meet the Whanganui Beyond 2030 group’s target of increasing the population by half, and providing a service for and revenue from those dozens of plants in the lower North Island all with wet sludge issues? With Imlay involved the dryer was going to pay for itself in just three years with ongoing cost savings. And now, lo and behold, it seems that Imlay may still be in!
Have we gone through this huge fear campaign for nothing? I’m still waiting to hear about the vision for Whanganui up to let alone Beyond 2030 and their supporting arguments, apart from just “let’s increase the population to 60,000 and attract new industry!”
Council of 2013-2016
Unfortunately for all the good things which this Council has achieved and is getting underway, it might well be remembered by some as the Council which dithered over the Wastewater Treatment Plant decision. My belief is that in the longer run the delays over the plant will be seen as a whole lot of political manoeuvring including by a handful of political aspirants probably with some good intentions but part of a larger chess game.
There’s no doubt that it’s an important decision which involves a considerable capital outlay, but the Council has never taken it lightly nor is it incapable of making the right decision for the city. Sure at $41 million the capital cost is large and may yet be scaled down when Talley makes up its mind, but it is overall cost (capital and operating expenditure) where the emphasis should lie. The cost is actually cheap when you consider the $80-$100 million that it is reported that Palmerston North will have to spend!
The original plant was highly experimental and there are a few who want the city to experiment all over again. Herzberg’s Theory distinguishes “motivation” factors from “hygiene” factors. Motivation factors clearly motivate you, make you become a better person or city. Hygiene factors you don’t miss until they’re not performing. A WWTP – pun not intended – is a hygiene factor. You don’t go experimenting with a hygiene factor, you follow concepts which are tried and true.
I wish we’d acted more like a team. While debate is good and healthy and a key part of the democratic process, there comes a time when maverick tendencies can be very counterproductive.
Future of the City
I believe the city’s prospects are improving hugely. We’ve recently had population growth and our image nationwide is turning around – Whanganui is in the top eight visitor destinations, which will entice more people to visit and to settle.
The Manawatū-Whanganui Regional Growth Study should produce good results with significant prospects in regional tourism, the Māori economy, manuka honey, aged care and health innovation, and port development (Ministers to make an announcement this week?).Sure, we need more jobs. Another industry would help, more medium-sized businesses – but they’re the hardest to attract or achieve. If we were to attract just 1 per cent of young Aucklanders (25-39 year-olds) who will never be able to own their own home, we’d have another 2,000 households here. If they brought or started their internet-based business, bought an affordable home and enjoyed the lifestyle and great outdoors here, they’d bring their own jobs and if in a year or so employed another person, this would improve the local economy significantly. We’ve been a Smart21 City Award winner four years in a row now – we need to turn those Awards into something concrete, an Innovation Quarter, to help to attract those young ones. MBIE says our concept is the best one they’ve yet seen. Much of our future relies in our celebrating the past and the rich heritage we have here in arts, culture and buildings, but continuing to build upon being the most “wired” city in NZ will drag us firmly into the 21st Century.
Just on the subject of remuneration, local government is probably the last “industry” in the country where you’re paid on size of population not on size of job. Whanganui is my hometown, but in Tauranga where I last lived, base pay for a Councillor is $70,000. The difference is decent pay versus one that is not, where for the hours and effort you put in you might just earn a dollar or slightly more than the adult minimum wage. If you want to do a good job on Council, you need to put in the hours whether it be for regular Council meetings and their preparation, the portfolios for which you’re the “go-to” person or the other Boards to which you’re often assigned. And it’s not getting any better - central Government continues to add to the burden carried by local government, such as Local Alcohol Policies or Psychoactive Substances bylaws. The job in Tauranga is no larger – there are still 40-odd activities on which a Councillor needs to familiarise himself/herself - if anything Whanganui has greater challenges than Tauranga. Remuneration in Whanganui means that it has fewer young people who can commit to standing, more retirees, more of those who can rely on their spouse for financial support and more part-timers, all of which may not best for Whanganui.