John MacDonald: I'm sorry Bromley, $41 million is too much

The organics processing plant in Bromley. Photo: Newsline
The organics processing plant in Bromley. Photo: Newsline
OPINION: The Christchurch City Council has a real dilemma on its hands.

It decided once and for all last month to move its composting plant out of the suburb of Bromley. This is the plant where our food scraps, grass clippings, hedge clippings - all of the green bin stuff - goes (if you live in Christchurch). And, as we know, it smells to high heaven and the people living in the area have had a gutsful.

This is not to be confused, by the way, with the burnt-out wastewater plant which is also in Bromley and also causing significant distress for people with the awful smell that's been coming out of it since the fire late last year.

The composting plant is completely separate but, like the wastewater plant, it stinks. Which is nothing new - the people of Bromley, and elsewhere too, have been putting up with the composting stench for years.

But it's come to a head recently because with the wastewater plant smell on top of the composting plant smell, some Bromley residents are at breaking point.

So last month city councillors decided a couple of things. First, they agreed to move the composting plant somewhere else - instead of trying to make improvements to the one in Bromley. They also asked for a report ASAP on what it would mean if the plant was closed immediately, without an alternative site operating.

Well, that report has been done and this is where the dilemma comes into it.

Because the report says if the council just shuts down the composting plant without having a replacement up and running somewhere else, it will cost the council - or should I say, it will cost ratepayers - $41 million.

This is not the cost of building a new composting plant. That would be on top of the $41m.

The $41m would be the additional costs associated with transporting all the organics from your green bin to the landfill at Kate Valley, near Waipara, north of Christchurch.

There'd be 55,000 tonnes of green waste that would have to be transported. It would take 2,756 truck journeys, which would mean more gas emissions and would throw a complete spanner in the works for the council, which wants its emissions to be down to net zero by 2030.

So, bad for the environment and bad for the finances.

Now because of the $41m additional costs and all of the emissions, the report that's been prepared for councillors - which they will consider tomorrow - says the council shouldn't shut down the compost plant immediately and should wait until it's built a new one somewhere else.

They don't know how long that would take but I remember they did say last month that it could take up to five years. So that's how long the people in Bromley could have to put up with the composting smell - another five years.

When the council was discussing this last month, I asked how people would feel about all the organics from their green bin going to landfill for five years - instead of being composted - if it meant the people in Bromley didn't have to put up with the composting smell any longer.

And the overwhelming view was: 'yes, shut it down now'. The vast majority of people said it was a trade-off they could live with, if it meant relief for the people in Bromley - and elsewhere too for that matter, because the smell from that composting plant goes further afield. Just like the smell from the wastewater plant.

But now that we know it would cost more than $40m - over and above whatever it's going to cost to build a new composting plant - is our empathy for the people in Bromley as strong as it was last month when we didn't have this very important piece of information?

I don't think I'm going to make any friends in Bromley. My empathy hasn't changed. I still really feel for the people affected by this composting smell. But I don't think there is any way the Christchurch City Council could justify spending $41m just to shut the plant down before it's got a replacement sorted.

The city's finances are already close to breaking point. We've got costs on the stadium project going through the roof, we've got the Cathedral project looking for more money, we've still got broken roads all over the city. It would be reckless of the city council to throw $40-odd million down the drain in that way.

And I'm picking that the majority of councillors will make that tough call tomorrow.

And it will be a very tough call. Because think back to last month when Banks Peninsula MP Tracey McLellan told councillors that the people in Bromley had them "on the clock" when she handed them a petition calling for the composting plant to be moved somewhere else.

Remember too what Environment Canterbury regional councillor Nicole Marshall told city councillors at that meeting last month. She wasn't there in her capacity as a regional councillor, but she demanded that the city council close the composting plant immediately.

She said to them: "You are spending millions of dollars a year on a facility that is poisoning a community. The council is a bad neighbour and the community wants you gone."

But despite all that, I don't think the council can give the people what they want - $41m is way too much.

It's already given an assurance that the plant will be moved away from Bromley. And, as far as I'm concerned, that's as much as it can give. Anything more would be unrealistic and too much of a financial burden on ratepayers.

-By John MacDonald, Canterbury Mornings host on Newstalk ZB Christchurch

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