Sunday, April 14, 2024

Christchurch council ‘sorry’ after treatment plant fire review criticism

An independent review into the response and recovery from Christchurch’s wastewater treatment plant fire will be presented to the city’s council next week.

The fire at the Christchurch Wastewater Treatment Plant caused significant damage to two trickling filters.

Following the event, an independent review was commissioned by the Christchurch City Council Chief Executive, Dawn Baxendale, to look into the community response and communication with the community during and after the fire.

The review addressed what went well, what could have been done better, and how the Council can ensure responses to future significant events are improved, the Council said in a statement.

“It excluded the technical response to the fire. Despite the plant losing 60% of its processing capability in a matter of hours, the Council kept the treatment process running and continues to do so,” it said.

Read the Council report here.

The review found that the focus of the Council was on maintaining uninterrupted service, which was an “enormous challenge” given the scale of the damage. However, it also says there should have been a greater focus on the community, saying Council was too slow to recognise the impact of the odours from the ponds on communities in the eastern suburbs, as well as provide them information and support.

“The review identified that by late April, there was a discernible improvement in the level of engagement and community support. Public communications increased and started referring to the smells as “stench” rather than “unpleasant odour”, air quality monitoring started, health advice was provided, information about paint discolouration was developed and a community support package was rolled out,” the review states.

“In the end Council got it right, but it was too late. Months had been lost at the start of the process and the Council was always playing catch-up.”

Following the review, the Council has developed a draft improvement plan which Councillors will also receive. This plan identifies the need to work collaboratively with the local community, key partners and the local Waitai Coastal-Burwood-Linwood Community Board.

“As a Council, we recognise our obligations to ensure the wellbeing of our residents. In response to the fire, the attention was focused on keeping the plant operating. We did not consider early enough the impact that the fire and its aftermath would have on the wellbeing of our residents,” General Manager Community, Infrastructure and Planning, Mary Richardson says.

“We are sorry. We want to learn the lessons from this response and work with the communities to ensure their voices are heard and contribute to Council decision-making in a meaningful way in the future.”

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