There was a great line up of speakers at this meeting, starting with big picture economic outlook for infrastructure to the specific details and challenges of backflow prevention, and insights from emerging leaders. Our theme was separating the signal from the noise, and this carried on throughout the day.

Neville Atkinson, Deputy Mayor, welcomed everyone to the meeting and drew parallels to the managed retreat process which councils affected by cyclone Gabrielle must be going through now, and the process which Waimakariri went through after the earthquakes. It is important that we share our experiences and learn from each other, which meetings like this facilitate.

Blake Lepper, GM Infrastructure Delivery at Te Waihanga Infrastructure Commission shared his outlook on infrastructure in New Zealand. There were lots of questions from the floor during his talk and discussion. He talked about his early days growing up in Central Otago and his insight into local politics – where he saw campaigns with forward thinking policies come across as unpopular and resulting in lost elections. He gave us a picture of the importance of infrastructure coming from an agricultural background. Just 30 minutes of frost can ruin the cherry harvest for an entire season!

On the transportation front he challenged us to look at transport differently – revealing that the majority of roading valuations is actually due to the land value sitting underneath our road corridors. How can we reimagine transport to reduce this cost?

When it comes to resourcing and finding the infrastructure managers we need, we have to look at what is going on internationally. There is potential to attract staff from overseas, but we should not be limiting asset managers to those who already have experience – our need to innovate and streamline comes as a call for people with different backgrounds to join us in coming up with new solutions.

Blake picked two of the major central government portfolios facing major infrastructure challenges; energy and health. In the energy sector, New Zealand’s unique natural resources and topography means we have potential to become entirely green with our energy supply. Health infrastructure on the other hand is suffering from under-investment. We need to approach this challenge differently. In New South Wales they standardised the design and construction of all of their educational facilities and managed to half their total building costs. How else could we approach our health infrastructure challenges?

Next Rob Kerr of Waimakariri District Council talked us through the lessons learnt from his shovel-ready project; Kaiapoi Stormwater and Flooding Improvements. He talked of the challenges of a quick moving project, with multiple work streams running in parallel and basing the work on assumptions as the details slowly get filled in. This leaves a door open for risk, change in project scope, and cost escalation as the project progresses. Nationally, some shovel-ready projects faced a 20% per month increase in cost of construction materials!

One of the solutions in Kaiapoi was making a particular pump station (likely to be in operation less than 5 times per year) an above-ground installation rather than below ground, which is more typical but also more expensive. This above-ground pump station is also more adaptable in future with potential to be relocated.

Rob talked of the successes in this project, which included benefiting from Waimakariri being in a “sweet-spot” as a mid-size council where you can more easily find alignment of stakeholder values and agendas. When everyone is working towards the same goal it is much easier to come up with solutions. Having a dedicated project team ensured that delivery was focused, as those involved couldn’t be pulled back to their BAU and leave the project short on resources.

Arch Murray of the Waimakariri District Council then gave us a frontline hands-on explanation of backflow prevention and what is actually happening out in the field. His visual and practical presentation featured photos showing the reality of how backflow is managed and how we can be unwittingly subjected to drinking water risks when it’s not done correctly.

When the importance of backflow prevention is not communicated clearly between designers, engineers, contractors, plumbers, and owners, we see compliance failures, risks to Council and ultimately a risk to the public through our drinking water supplies. He advocated for a NZ-wide standard rather than the council by council approach which is currently in place. Working together to improve practices around backflow prevention is critical.

Emerging Engineers Claudia Button and Allie Mace-Cochrane of the Waimakariri District Council chaired a panel discussion with fellow young professionals discussing their experiences and the challenges that they see across industry.

Tom Hasson of Fulton Hogan, Braeden McInnes of WSP, and Abraham James of Selwyn District Council answered questions from their own perspective; giving us diverse views from “contractor”, “consultant” and “council”.

The three came to asset management from wanting to be an engineer, an interest in building and infrastructure, and a realisation that being a professional athlete was probably not realistic, but always liking big diggers and bridges.

The challenges discussed by the panel included ownership of mistakes and changes, and handling how elements change during projects. Increased collaboration between the stakeholders, right from when a project kicks off, was discussed as a way to get better project outcomes.

The biggest challenges coming up were seen as population growth, thinking in 100+ year lifecycles for infrastructure and including the impact of climate change. This would put more value in the best long-term solution not just the cheapest solution. These are meaty challenges which, as Blake had referenced earlier, will take a new way of thinking and innovating to improve. The use of new technology should also make us more efficient and productive.

Lots of food for thought from the emerging leaders during this discussion. Thanks for taking the opportunity to share your perspectives with the group!

Jessie Dalglish, Water Resources Engineer from Tonkin + Taylor, also an emerging member with IPWEA NZ, rounded up the emerging members panel with her recap and sponsor’s message.

A big thank you to our sponsor for this event, Tonkin + Taylor who provided a delicious morning tea and lunch.


Site tours

Silverstream Development

The afternoon’s site tours started with the stormwater management solutions at the Silverstream Development with Davis Ogilvie. This was a new development with a long and changing evolution before coming to fruition. It had been zoned as commercial, then eventually after the earthquakes to residential. Its location right next to the river caused a challenge with flood risk management which they were tasked with mitigating. It involved stormwater structures and elevating the development land. This had a unique set of challenges which they worked through, and now the completed development provides homes for many.

Kaiapoi Cycleway

We walked the central cycleway area and Shane Binder from Waimakariri District Council was our expert tour guide. The rain didn’t deter the group. We learnt about Waimakariri’s initiatives in “Park and Ride” to reduce commuter car traffic into Christchurch. There has been extensive beautification of the main street, and establishing the cycleway to connect the local paths has increased bike journey’s by four times.

Stormwater pump station

Rob Kerr talked us through the design parameters of the Beach Road Stormwater pump station – pumping stormwater away from this large, flat residential area about 100 m from the Waimakariri River. While got to lift and lids and see the installation first-hand, the day’s rain was not quite enough to trigger the pumps into operation while we were there.

A huge thank you goes out to the presenters who shared their work, their passion, and their experience with everyone. It was an inspiring meeting with plenty of technical material and opportunities to network.

Thank you to the organizing committee of James Thorne, Claudia Button, and Allie Mace-Cochrane for pulling this meeting together. As Membership Engagement Manager with IPWEA NZ it was wonderful meeting so many passionate asset managers from the branch area and hearing about the ‘pulse’ of asset management in the Upper South Island.

The next Upper South Island Branch meeting is planned to be held in Oamaru, as a combined event with the Lower South Island branch. Keep an eye on the website or your inbox for an invitation to this event.