Councillor Kōrero with Lisa Thomson: measures in place to get wastewater discharges under control


With wastewater issues still top of everyone’s agenda, Whāingaroa Ward Councillor Lisa Thomson joined Aaron in the studio to discuss the outcomes of the recent public hui, among other important topics.

Community hui about unplanned wastewater discharges

The hui – held at Raglan Town Hall on 2 November 2023, following two unplanned discharges of treated sewage into the harbour during an incoming tide – was well-attended by both community members and representatives from Waikato District Council and Watercare.

“There was a great council representation and that signals the seriousness that the council, the community board and I placed on convening this hui. Although some people may have felt it was short notice, we held it as soon as we had sufficient information about what had happened, and what we were doing to ensure that that wouldn't happen again,” says Lisa.  

Lisa feels the hui went well, with a lot of great questions and kōrero. The hui was videoed and is available online on the council’s YouTube channel,

Some of questions asked at the hui were around the competence of Watercare staff, but Lisa says overall the council is pleased with its relationship with Watercare and feels it has been advantageous for the whole district. 


Also discussed at the meeting were the steps being taken to ensure unscheduled discharges didn’t  happen again. For the immediate future, calculations would be thoroughly checked before they are signed off, with confirmation then sent to Lisa and the community board chair.

Following multiple facebook posts about discharge in the harbour, Lisa reminded people that the harbour is a dynamic environment, and that a lot of unusual water thought to be wastewater, was probably due to natural processes, such as sea foam or algal bloom and that Watercare confirmed there had been no additional accidental discharges.

“If people are concerned or uncertain I urge them to view the video from the hui, or look at the LAWA’s [Land, Air, Water Aotearoa] website, where they’ll find the results of testing done in the harbour, which gives water quality a green light or a red light. 

“People can also contact the Waikato Regional Council or Waikato District Council, and if they can, should take samples of the water if they feel there may be sewage in it.”

Lisa acknowledged that there had been some worrying tests taken recently outside the museum, and that she was still waiting to hear back about cause of the results. 

Long-term plan

Information coming out about the council’s long-term plan shows costs are set to rise significantly, including $2.2 million for a new boat ramp, roading costs going up from close to $100 million to $140 million, and three waters costs likely to rise even more.

Lisa explains that the latest information outlines the potential costs for each of the council’s areas of operation, but are just projected costs, designed to let the council see what’s required across all areas of its business, so it can then make decisions about what to keep. 

“We can't, through rates, afford all of what we've got in that document. So we're going to have to make some decisions around what we will keep and what we won't keep. It's good for the community to see those figures, so they know what we are working with, but we in the governance space will have to make decisions about what to keep and what to cut, and what's affordable and what's not. I think that just about every council across New Zealand is facing those hard decisions.”

Some of the increased roading costs can be attributed to fixing damage done by Cyclone Gabrielle, but Lisa says the Waikato also has a significant roading network that needs work, and a lot of the costs are about bringing that network up to an acceptable standard . 

With respect to three waters, the council is waiting to see what the future government will do, although in the meantime the council still has decisions to make in that area. 

“We actually need reform and we need central government support to do the work that needs doing. We can't just continue to put this all on our ratepayers because the costs are so significant, not just for three waters but for roading infrastructure as well.”

A transport plan for Raglan

Another issue currently on the table is whether a structure plan is needed for Raglan, given the projected growth the town is expected to experience. However, Lisa says that a structure plan has not been included in this three-year cycle of the long-term plan, and it is still unclear whether what’s needed really is a structure plan or a strategic plan to help shape Raglan’s future. 

There is, however, a transport plan for Raglan, which is now at draft stage.

“The draft transport plan is quite a significant plan, and looks ahead a good 20 or 30 years. However, we’ve told staff we need costings for the things they're proposed and we need to prioritise what's in the draft plan that's important for the next 3, 5 and 10 years before it goes out to the community. Otherwise, we might set up expectations for our community that we can't actually meet.”

The plans takes a broad look at Raglan’s transport needs into the future, including potential investments such as widening the car bridge to two lanes or providing traffic lights for it in the interim, and putting a new road from either Hills Road or Maungatawhiri Road through to Wainui Road or Te Hutewai Road on the other side of Raglan. No costing have yet been prepared for any of these projects.

Land-based wastewater treatment

The possibility of a land-based discharge site for treated wastewater is still in consideration and being discussed at regular meetings. 

Lisa says people are welcome to join these which are held on Zoom. The next meeting is on 14 December and people can register their interest in attending on the Community Board’s Facebook page.

Housing strategy 

The council has committed to developing a housing strategy for the district. Staff have started work on what the strategy might look like, with an online hui held on 15 November to help inform that work. 

The two papakāinga housing projects already underway in Raglan, at Poihakena Marae and Wainamu, were discussed as providing a model that’s working, as was multi-generational whānau housing.

Lisa says, “We’re interested in exploring opportunities for further developments like that, and for encouraging developers to really look at housing through an affordability lens. Because at the moment affordable housing isn't affordable. 

“We’re also asking, how do we enable affordable housing as a council and what mechanisms can we use, for example through the resource consent process and the fees, to enable it to happen? There’s also the question of what role the council should have in delivering community aspirations for affordable housing and we know that this is complex.”

To demonstrate this complexity, Lisa points to the Raglan Affordability Project established in 2017/2018 and the Waikato Regional Housing Initiative, which has been going for 7 years. 

“No-one has yet come up with a model or houses on the ground at a community level that meets the needs of our diverse communities,” she says.

Lisa says particular issues for Raglan are local families leaving larger urban areas and returning to live on whānau land, then feeling disconnected because they don't have an understanding of their place in this community; and the challenge of gentrification, where housing is so expensive that local whānau are being pushed out of the housing market and having to leave the community where they've grown up. 

“So I think it's a really important piece of work that we have this housing strategy where we're working with all of the agencies, because council can only pull certain levers, and that’s not enough to solve all the issues. At the moment, we’re sort of pushing the strategy through so we can put some funds towards it through the long-term plan process,” says Lisa.