Whanganui's much-debated wastewater treatment plant has been given the green light.

An extraordinary meeting of the district council yesterday voted eight to three to proceed with the Cardno designed-wastewater treatment plant and gave the chief executive the right to sign a guaranteed maximum price contract for the construction.

It was standing room only in the council chamber, where at least 60 members of the public turned up for the debate.

The council has finally approved the $41.2 million plant to replace the failed plant at Airport Rd, which has been inoperable since 2013.


Until Friday of last week, council CEO Kym Fell had been talking with Affco, the major trade-waste user, to find an alternative treatment solution that may have resulted in lower costs for the new plant. Affco, Open Country Dairy and Land Meats had indicated they wanted to build their own treatment plant but use the city pipes and consents to discharge into the ocean.

A draft agreement was put together and Fell said council had "bent over backwards" to accommodate the industries but no agreement had been reached.

"Affco have told me they cannot agree to our terms so we have to assume they will remain in the municipal scheme and we proceed," he said.

He said Affco was asked to sign a letter stating they will step out of the scheme and "then we could downscale our scheme to handle lesser industrial loads".

"But despite persistent requests Affco remains silent."

He said council had spent $35,000 over the past six weeks trying to get an agreement with key industries.

Fell said there was still time for council to look at ways "it can cut the pie" and apportion costs to other trade waste users if Affco decided to opt out "but we can't be putting our community at risk while doing so".

On the current costings for the new plant, the total trade waste rate would be $3.5 million a year and residential pan tax would be $468.


Mayor Annette Main said she believed the decision was a "totally responsible one".

"We absolutely have to allow for our waste industries but what we need to do now is build the plant. And while we're building we will work with them to make sure it's as affordable for them and our community."

Main said although she won't be mayor after the October 8 elections, she had every confidence the council could achieve that.

She said one of the key things overlooked was the fact the trade waste users, who put the biggest loads on the plant, could pull out of the scheme at any stage.

"If industry changes they have that right. No matter what trade waste agreements you have they're not binding. If they leave, they leave and we've got to find a solution to that."

Councillor Helen Craig said council had "exhaustively researched" design for the plant but warned about making the plant smaller, which could compromise trade users in future.

Cr Hamish McDouall said none of the councillors wanted to spend the $41.2 million.

"If there were other alternatives, we looked at them, but none stood up the scrutiny. The longer we delay this decision the more the costs are mounting. Then there's the reputational damage for Whanganui as we keep pumping raw sewage into the ocean," he said.

"I have concerns for Affco but we can't abrogate our responsibility to not make a decision."

Cr Charlie Anderson said as it was the "biggest decision" in council history he wanted to wait until the outcome of the inquiry into the failed plant was completed.

Cr Martin Visser said the focus had always been on the cost but he said neighbouring Palmerston North was looking at a plant costing $80m-$100m.

Cr Rob Vinsen said he initially voted for the new plant on the proviso all the trade waste users were aboard.

"Now it's plain [with Affco's non-committal] that 65 per cent of the load on the plant won't be there so to proceed on this basis is irresponsible. We must revisit the design and ask if the existing plant is salvageable."

Cr Philippa Baker-Hogan said she hoped Affco would "do the decent thing" and sign the letter to say it will be a part of the scheme.

"But I'm concerned we're going to stymie growth by making an uninformed decision to spend $41.2m on this new plant. This is too big a project to decide on while the inquiry into the failed plant is still ongoing," she said.

Cr Jenny Duncan: "We need to proceed with a plant that can handle industrial waste. It will create an increase for ratepayers so those sitting around this table after October need to find ways to make savings. And we can't waste money trying to find out of the failed plant is viable."

Cr Rangi Willis said it may be possible the failed plant could be saved "but do we want to spend $5 million finding that out?" He said any more delays could put council in breach of the resource consent and the costs that came with that. (Non-compliance can incur fines of up to $10,000 a day).

Main said previous councils had made decisions to spend $200 million on separating the city's sewage and stormwater "and at the same time made the mistake of choosing a plant that failed".

She said council had put every resource into finding alternatives to the Cardno design and the community deserved council to make the right decision.

"Do not be misled by what some opponents to this have been saying. Going back will impose major costs on the community. It's time for this council to move forward."

The vote


Annette Main, Jason Granville, Martin Visser, Ray Stevens, Sue Westwood, Jenny Duncan, Rangi Wills, Hamish McDouall.


Charlie Anderson, Rob Vinsen, Philippa Baker-Hogan.

* Helen Craig left the meeting before the vote was taken but earlier said she would support the motion.