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Big bucks for roading

A Wairarapa council has paid a roading contractor almost $18 million over the past three years, but locals say the value delivered by this expenditure isn’t obvious.

New figures obtained from South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act [LGOIMA] show it has paid roading contractor Fulton Hogan $17,834,423 since 2020, with almost $8m of that spent last year alone.

The numbers come at a time when many South Wairarapa roads are the subject of complaints, and after Hinakura Rd collapsed completely last June. That road is now impassable, with residents using a temporary track over private farmland.

Meanwhile, the roads to Tora and Te Awaiti are often in need of repair and maintenance, and locals have learned to be vigilant when bad weather approaches.

SWDC rates increased 19.8 per cent this year, and more than 50 per cent over the past three years. Rural ratepayers privately complain they do not get value for money, and one local has now spoken out publicly.

In the LGOIMA response, SWDC appears to confirm it does not have a specific documented process for managing the work of Fulton Hogan, relying instead on a range of general procurement policies, quality assurance processes, and regular consultation between contractors and the council.

The response also revealed SWDC paid roading contractor Fulton Hogan the following amounts:

• 2020-21 – $4,720,338

• 2021-22 – $5,376,380

• 2022-23 – $7,737,705

One affected rural resident who lives on a South Wairarapa farm has told the Times-Age about the impact of the degraded roading on their lives, business, and families, saying the only tangible benefit they got from their substantial annual rates bill is the road, which is poorly maintained and sometimes impassable.

“Out here we are always prepared for bad weather. We are regularly cut off from town, and even our neighbours, for days.

“At those times, our primary concern is not for the road so much as for the stock,” they said.

“The road can often be in a deteriorating, poor state for weeks, but when we report this [to SWDC], we are made to feel we are being a nuisance.”

The rural resident said although the council is generally prompt in responding to emergency road closures in bad weather, day-to-day maintenance of trouble spots is poor, and characterised by a lack of action.

People are sometimes stranded.

“As a consequence of Cyclone Gabrielle, we had a family come to stay for the night, and they had to stay for four nights. On the fifth day, we made an epic expedition to town and made it, with ourselves and our vehicle covered in mud.”

The only tangible service they get [or need] from the council in return for their rates was the road, the resident said.

“As a farmer, we pay maybe 20 times as much in rates as a lifestyler living on the coast, or someone living in town who gets many other services from the council, or even a fisherman on the coast whose business needs a reliable road.

“This is contrary to the principle of user pays.”

While the road is essential for living and their business, they are getting a second-rate service, the resident said.

“We see huge waste of money in the way contractors carry out work, and then there isn’t enough money to do a proper job or to find a permanent solution for the trouble spots.”

The local said damaged roads remain in poor condition, with one road described as “an ongoing disaster”.

“The whole road used to get regularly metaled, the water table was cleaned out, and the culverts maintained. For the past 10 years, road maintenance has been very sporadic.

“The ongoing maintenance must surely cost more than fixing the problems once and for all?”

The rural resident also queried whether SWDC has the expertise to hold the contractor to account or evaluate value for money.

“Just spending the money is not what the job should be about; anyone can tick a box,” they said.

In response to LGOIMA questions asking for copies of documented processes [if any] SWDC has in place to manage the work of Fulton Hogan and roading contractors in general, the council left blank spaces.

In response to a LGOIMA question asking for a written description of the process used to manage roading contractors, in the absence of the requested specific written processes, SWDC provide the following response:

“Work programmes are approved within budget allocations. The programmes are primarily developed by the contractor and approved with consultation between the engineer and contractor and a requirement basis,” the reply said.

“Works are completed throughout the month, and consultation between contractors and council is held on a weekly basis to discuss progress and variations. A portion of work is audited by engineers, and works are also supported by quality assurance records. Contractor’s claims are worked through and
verified prior to payment.”

SWDC also pointed to its publicly available procurement policy, which addresses both procurement and management of contracts, and the Waka Kotahi endorsed Ruamahanga roading procurement strategy.

The LGOIMA response said SWDC ensures work done by roading contractors is done to an acceptable standard through key performance indicators, which are set and published in its long-term plan.

“The measures are reported in our Annual Report,” the reply said.

“Waka Kotahi undertakes independent procedural and technical audits to ensure processes are in place. “

Two signatures are needed to sign off roading-related payments.

“Payments are certified by the roading manager and approved by senior management.”

-NZLDR

    Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

4 COMMENTS

  1. Whether or not the ratepayer receives value for money for roading expenditure appears to rest almost entirely upon the competence of SWDC’s Roading Manager; he/she is the person exercising judgement about contractor proposals, signing off on work programmes and monitoring works. Given the large sums involved, surely there needs to be formalised criteria for establishing priorities and evaluating proposals as well as written monitoring protocols. The failure of council to provide copies of (any) ‘documented processes’ that SWDC has in place to manage the work of roading contractors, in response to the OIA request, has to be of concern, perhaps something that the Audit Office needs to look at.

  2. Sorry user pays doesn’t happen councils say it’s now called targeted rates. Rural rate payers are targeted for roading and urban rate payers are targeted for sewerage, water, rubbish collection,
    footpaths, street lighting. This is totally wrong urban users can use roading but Rural users can’t use their sewerage and water. Councils are very unfair to the rural rate payers who have none of the urban rate payers facilities. Totally wrong .

  3. The commentary by local residents (and indeed the LGOIMA response provided by SWDC to the Times-Age) should be set against the Investment audit report by Waka Kotahi / NZ Transport Agency, considered by SWDC Assurance and Risk Committee at its meeting on 3 May 2023. The objective of such audits “is to provide assurance that Waka Kotahi investment in Council’s land transport programme is being well managed and delivers value for money’. (p.5) Contract management is one of the matters evaluated in the report and the overall assessment is rated as “effective”, noting that “regular staff contact and meetings with the physical works contractor were evident through the contract files provided” (p.8).

  4. It would appear this is not any different from the Cape Palliser Road and the amount of $$ being spent on that every year with very little or not real improvements.

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