A mayoral task force urgently launched in response to Wellington's water woes has been criticised for shutting the public out.

But during a city council meeting today councillors moved against mayor Andy Foster to drastically change the membership of his task force to include public representatives.

After two months of water woes, Foster went into damage control last week calling an urgent meeting, issuing press releases, and launching the task force within a matter of days.

The task force will review the state of the city's infrastructure, including a probe into leaks, review asset management plans, and implement a better approach to communication.


Owhiro Bay Residents' Association member Sue Reid told councillors at a meeting today- "my whole life it seems, has turned to sh*t".

There was not only contamination near her home at Owhiro Bay, but her workplace was close to where a wastewater tunnel collapsed just before Christmas, Reid said.

She criticised the task force for having no community representation in its membership.

"The task force is entirely comprised of the very people who have gotten us into this current situation. We cannot and will not endorse this task force without community representation."

Reid said the council was "misreading the mood in Wellington" and she felt the public was being shut out.

"We've got a list of information requests because we can't get information from you," she told councillors.

The original task force membership was made up of some elected members, a representative from Wellington Water's board, one from the Wellington Water Committee, and two iwi mana whenua representatives.

But an amendment brought by councillor Fleur Fitzsimons has completely changed what the task force will look like.


"The whole point of these task forces is to tap into the knowledge in our communities", she said.

Part of Willis St is closed after a wastewater tunnel collapsed just before Christmas. Photo / Georgina Campbell.
Part of Willis St is closed after a wastewater tunnel collapsed just before Christmas. Photo / Georgina Campbell.

Two councillor representatives and the chair of the Finance, Audit and risk committee have been pulled out.

Meanwhile up to four community representatives have been added to the task force as well as up to four independent subject matter experts.

Wellington Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Milford has also been given a seat at the table.

"Without the business community and independent experts right there on the task force we risk making the same mistakes of the past", Fitzsimons told her colleagues.

The change in membership went against advice provided to councillors from incoming council chief executive Barbara McKerrow.

She cautioned that appointing community representatives and experts to the task force risked confused accountability.

One expert had warned her not to "make this bigger than Ben-Hur", McKerrow said.

Fitzsimons fired back- "it's too late, it already is, this is a big issue in Wellington."

Councillor Jenny Condie said the task force wasn't just about water and pipes, but about addressing a "crisis of communication and a loss of public trust", so she supported the appointment of community representatives.

But Councillor Nicola Young was concerned they were locking themselves into an "epic" investigation.

"I accept we have to sort the water out, but the more we try and get muddled into the detail, the murkier it's going to get and one thing we don't want is to get murk and our water combined."

Councillor Sean Rush assured the public he as an elected member was up to the job and would leave no stone unturned.

"I don't think there's a place on this task force for residents who have got their own focus and their own emotional attachment to a certain outcome when this is a network wide issue", he said.

By the end of the amendments councillor Diane Calvert said the task force was a dog's breakfast.

"I support the intent of a task force but I think the amendments have now slowed it down, have shackled it."

In the end Foster voted in favour of the appointment of up to four community representatives and giving Milford a seat.

He said the council "100 per cent" needed to hear from members of the community, it was just a question of how.

Foster's preference was for the public to address members of the task force rather than becoming members themselves.

The mayor said the council's biggest challenge was to keep a sense of perspective.

"Our job as managers is to try and make sure we are being rational and calm and responsible about how we respond to this, so we've got a job to try and make sure we take some of the emotion and the heat out of it and we get the light into it."

Foster assured his colleagues he would be "cracking the whip" and hoped traction on the issue progressed a lot more quickly than their debate today.