Year of thorny problems and big plans for DCC

Hundreds turned up at public meetings for council staff to update Waikouaiti, Karitane and...
Hundreds turned up at public meetings for council staff to update Waikouaiti, Karitane and Hawksbury locals about lead contamination in their drinking water. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
What to do about water was one prominent theme for the Dunedin City Council in 2021. Council reporter Grant Miller reflects on a year that included a lead contamination scare, adoption of an ambitious 10-year plan and a councillor getting trespassed.

Dunedin's mayor and councillors have lately received something of a rebuke from hundreds of people.

A survey of residents showed just a quarter of respondents were satisfied with their performance, down 15 points on a year earlier.

That will give elected officials a bit to ponder in 2022, election year.

In the past year, the Dunedin City Council continued to grapple with disruption associated with the Covid-19 pandemic and how it should best respond to climate change.

The council decided it should forge ahead with an ambitious 10-year programme aimed mostly at modernising the city’s infrastructure, but which also ratchets up debt.

Mayor Aaron Hawkins generally rolled with the punches, but the residents survey - carried out between July last year and June this year - suggests he has ground to make up.

The planned redevelopment of Dunedin’s George St will no doubt continue to generate debate in...
The planned redevelopment of Dunedin’s George St will no doubt continue to generate debate in 2022. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
A team ticket for next year’s election emerged, featuring mayoral aspirants Crs Jules Radich and Carmen Houlahan, as well as Cr Andrew Whiley.

Another mayoralty contender, Cr Lee Vandervis, was lately trespassed because he tried to attend a council meeting without a Covid-19 vaccine pass, and it remains to be seen how such matters affect his chances.

Water became a dominant subject for the council early in the year.

Residents of Waikouaiti, Karitane and Hawksbury were told they should not drink tap water from February 2 because elevated levels of lead had been detected.

Hundreds of people flocked to a public meeting days later and pressed for answers from health and local government officials.

It was some time before they got them.

Half a year later, the water was declared safe to drink.

An extensive investigation by the council determined there was no widespread lead in the water distribution network and any problems were most likely caused by pipes and fittings on private properties.

The saga may have been a mere scare, but a momentous fright was in store for anyone who believed councils should be in charge of water services.

The Government proposed to strip councils of control of some assets and then decided they should be forced to go along with the plan.

That went down like a lead balloon and the contentious matter of how reforms should proceed will bubble away next year.

The Government also decided resource management should be shaken up and that local government needed to be reviewed, for good measure.

In Dunedin, the planned redevelopment of the city centre continued to generate debate.

In September, elected members voted 9-5 for one-way traffic in George St.

A team ticket for next year’s election has emerged, featuring mayoral aspirants Crs Jules Radich ...
A team ticket for next year’s election has emerged, featuring mayoral aspirants Crs Jules Radich (pictured) and Carmen Houlahan, as well as Cr Andrew Whiley. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Work on the project will be prominent next year and is due to finish in 2024.

Councillors got a bit tetchy during deliberations on the 10-year plan, as elected members nailed their colours to the mast, declaring where money should be spent to keep the good ship Dunedin afloat and making headway.

They backed a $1.5 billion capital spending programme to modernise the city’s infrastructure, improve its waste management, upgrade Moana Pool, provide a performing arts venue and develop transport projects to offset traffic disruption expected to be caused by the building of the new Dunedin hospital.

Former mayor Dave Cull died in April and his widow accepted a Queen’s Birthday honour on his behalf this month.

Mr Cull was inducted as a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to local government.

The peanut-shaped roundabout in St Clair was a year in the making and traffic began flowing around it in July.

Restoration of the Dunedin Railway Station continued and the council decided to keep its trains operation on the tracks, despite a collapse in passenger numbers because of fallout from Covid-19.

Contractors began marking out the site of the new Mosgiel swimming pool in August.

The city council’s bid to start a landfill at Smooth Hill hit turbulence, as the Otago Regional Council decided the consent application should be publicly notified and Dunedin Airport raised concerns about bird strike.

Some changes to council governance are coming.

The council decided representatives from Te Runaka o Ōtākou and Kāti Huirapa Runaka ki Puketeraki should be added to its infrastructure services and planning and environment committees.

The council had a new chief executive in charge through 2021, Sandy Graham, who was appointed in September the previous year.

Things to watch out for in 2022 will include how well the council keeps up with its planned capital spending, development of the South Dunedin community library, council unity or disunity about responding to water reforms, a possible decision about where a performing arts centre might go and, of course, the election.

The residents’ survey is one pointer to voter sentiment, but if a significant proportion of residents meant to provide a dose of bitter-tasting medicine for the mayor, he was not swallowing it.

"There are plenty of people in the community who are proud and supportive of the direction that this council has been heading in of late," Mr Hawkins said.

We shall see.

grant.miller@odt.co.nz

 

 

Comments

The mayor's dismissive response to the opinions of the people he is suppose to represent, in the form of the residents survey, says all it needs to about this mayor. I hope those who voted for him or his gaggle of nodding dogs are having a good look at themselves.

This council has done little but charge ratepayers more for less.

Ratepayers will not forget the hundreds of thousands spent on painting circles on roads and messing around with the Octagon. Now more is to be wasted on a George St "upgrade" while current ancient city infrastructure becomes more dilapidated.

Speaking of which, whatever happened to that Octagon furniture, ping pong table and bean bags that we paid for? Where is it now?

 

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