News & Events

Consultation begins for Nature Calls

Tuesday June 2 2020

Consultation is now open for the biggest environmental and financial decision our city needs to make in the coming years.

Palmerston North residents, and those in surrounding districts, are being asked to have their say on how we manage, treat and discharge our wastewater for up to the next 35 years.

Palmerston North City Council’s resource consent for how we currently manage, treat and discharge wastewater is ending soon, and we need to apply for a new consent by June 2022.

The six shortlisted options we want public feedback on involve discharging treated wastewater to a range of environments – the Manawatū River, land, groundwater, and the ocean. Most of the options are also a hybrid – where a combination of discharge locations would be used.

This consultation had been scheduled for the week New Zealand went into Alert Level 4 Lockdown, so was postponed. Due to legislative timeframes, we cannot delay the consultation any more.

This project will impact rates

Before this project started in 2017, a placeholder budget of $128.8 million was set aside in our 10 Year Plan for a new wastewater solution. After investigating options and doing technical work, we now know that the cost will be far higher.

Currently, residential ratepayers pay $253 for wastewater services. The potential future cost for these options range from $550 to $1,200 per home per year. This charge will also apply per pan (toilet) for other ratepayers.

There'd also be a very significant contribution by our trade waste customers. Around 500 businesses currently pay around $1million combined per year to send their wastewater to our treatment plant. They will also pay significantly more.

This project is likely to be the single biggest programme to be contemplated by Council next year for our next 10 Year Plan. It will have very significant impacts on our debt levels and the rates income required to not only service and repay the debt, but also to operate the treatment process and discharge. The Council will as part of its decision-making process be faced with prioritising its investments in other facilities and services so that its debt levels do not exceed the limits that will be imposed by its lenders, and rates increases are not higher than ratepayers can afford.

Palmerston North Mayor Grant Smith says, unfortunately, this isn’t an optional project.

“Hearing these numbers on the back of Covid-19 will be an understandable shock to our residents. The challenge for us will be to determine the most cost-effective option that strikes an appropriate balance between environmental, cultural, social and financial considerations. I can assure you that government, external and industry funding is being explored, and these conversations will continue as we get closer towards choosing the best option for our city.”

We want people in Horowhenua and Manawatū to have their say too

If we decide to proceed with an option that involves land-based discharge, we’d have to look for land in our neighbouring districts. The average resident creates around 210 litres of wastewater a day, which means for these options we’d need between 400ha to 3,500ha of land. There are some locations in Horowhenua and Manawatū Districts that have the right soil types for land discharge but, as we have not done any field work or testing to prove they’d be suitable, we are not identifying them during this consultation. Once we know what option the public is leaning towards, we will then conduct soil tests and talk to landowners.

Option six also involves an ocean discharge, and this would occur around 2km offshore in the South Taranaki Bight, which is off the coast of Horowhenua/Manawatū.

Mayor Smith says it’s important to also hear from residents in this area.

“Ideally, we’d be able to treat and discharge our wastewater within our own boundaries, but the land we need is just too significant. While Palmerston North residents will be paying for this service, we want to make sure Horowhenua and Manawatū residents also get a say, and we urge them to give feedback.”

All options would be sustainable and meet legislative requirements

Our city’s population is growing and the value being placed on our environment is high.

We’re looking at how we can treat our wastewater better and – if possible – switch from chemical to biological processes for some of these steps.

We’re confident that all of the options we’re proposing would protect public health. We’ll also ensure that any treatment method and discharge meets environmental regulations. We’re working with some of the best environmental scientists and engineers to inform us how to achieve these targets.

Coronavirus means we’re having to do consultation a bit differently

This is one of the most important decisions our city needs to make, and we want to ensure all our residents understand the project well.

From 4 June, residents will begin receiving a consultation guide in their letterbox with a feedback form that can be posted, dropped into our customer service centre or libraries, or filled in online. This material is also available on naturecalls.nz

If New Zealand remains in Alert Level 2, or drops to Alert Level 1, a ‘town hall’ style meeting will be held on the evening of Wednesday 17 June, which will also be live-streamed. Under Alert Level 2, we can only have 100 people at a public gathering, so people will need to register to attend. Drop-in sessions will also be held at community libraries where residents can ask the project manager specific questions. Dates for these are available on naturecalls.nz and will be advertised. If we were to move to Alert Level 3 or Alert Level 4, the ‘town hall’ style meeting would instead be a live webinar.

Mayor Smith says it's essential for residents to have your say

“While the timing isn’t ideal, it is so important that our residents have their say. To be able to make an informed decision we need to know what our residents, ratepayers, neighbouring communities, businesses and different iwi want. This decision will affect us and future generations for up to 35 years. Please make sure your voice is heard.”