A call for an inquiry into Whanganui's failed wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) could get across the line if an early canvass of councillors is a guide.

Councillor Rob Vinsen plans to table a notice of motion at the May 31 council meeting calling for the inquiry, and he already has support of his seconder, Councillor Rangi Willis.

The Chronicle emailed the mayor and councillors yesterday asking if they would support the motion. At press time, five said they would but not necessarily in the form Mr Vinsen had outlined.

Jack Bullock will support the motion but has concerns about the cost. "However, I believe when things go extremely wrong with such major infrastructure as this, then we need to look back to see what went wrong. Learning from mistakes will ensure we do not have a repeat issue with the plant."


Helen Craig had earlier agreed an inquiry was desirable but would wait until a settlement had been reached with the designers of the failed plant.

"We will need to agree terms of reference for the inquiry, including a consideration of what final outcome our community will expect from the inquiry. By undertaking an in-depth, honest and no-blame inquiry ... we should better understand the failures in the decision-making process and address any weaknesses that still might be prevalent in our planning and decision-making systems," she said.

Philippa Baker-Hogan said she would support the motion. "What has never been answered to any level of public satisfaction is who is to blame for the old plant failure. The community and some councillors still have many questions over the WWTP that are simply too important not to be answered and I believe council needs the full inquiry answered prior to pushing the button on a plant."

Hamish McDouall said he would support an inquiry but regardless of Mr Vinsen's notice of motion "it was always going to be on the council agenda anyway". Charlie Anderson also supported the notice of motion.

"One of my disappointments over the WWTP debacle was, in the early days we lost an opportunity to reinstate the old plant with proper aeration to at least give it another chance. This opportunity was lost amidst the legal issues. Although I have never supported the current plant design because of cost and lack of various guarantees, I do support an inquiry."

Ray Stevens said he remained opposed to an inquiry because he could not find an objective reason for spending potentially hundreds of thousands of ratepayer dollars where a result has been achieved in mediation.

"This 'blame mentality' has been dealt with during the legal process and it is now time to deal with the current issues and move forward. History cannot be changed but we can learn from what we now know going into the future. Furthermore, this plant has to be built and any future delays would bankrupt this city."

Annette Main said there was already a motion before council so Mr Vinsen's move was unnecessary. "What hasn't been discussed at this stage is the scope and cost of what has been requested. The plant failure has been addressed and a legal case settled. A motion lies on the table to look at what went wrong at the time. The scope of an inquiry and what cost it would incur needs to be balanced against what would be achieved.

"Any review of earlier decision making has the potential to be extremely costly and time consuming, and frankly what will it achieve?"

Jenny Duncan shared Ms Main's view and while she supported a review in principle, there would be differing views on the extent of that review.

"These things are very expensive and I'm not keen on seeing our ratepayers fork out on something that tells us what we already know and has been dealt with by the litigation process. Staff and councillors of the time are no longer with us and can't be held liable anyway."

At press time we had not received comment from councillors Sue Westwood, Jason Granville and Martin Visser.