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Cockburn residents give council a blast

Raw sewage, “third-world” living conditions causing sickness, and years of what residents describe as “criminal negligence” by the council – Masterton’s Cockburn St residents have had enough.

“I’m so f***ing tired of fighting for our rights to human decency,” a tearful Jaimee Charters told the council on Wednesday.

“I’m tired of feeling like a shit mum, putting my kids in this hamster wheel through no fault of my own.”

Charters is one of several residents at their wits’ end over repeated and long-term problems with raw sewage backing up and overflowing into their properties from the council’s wastewater network.

Although the council has made improvements to the network, Charters and her neighbours have had no reprieve from the sewage overflows and are demanding an agreeable solution.

“Every time there is a heavy rain downpour, I lose all my amenities,” resident Jasmine Robens said.

“I’m unable to use my toilet, wash my clothing, wash my dishes, and – more concerning – I’m unable to shower.

“Please explain to me why water is added into my rates when it is something that isn’t always available to me.”

Robens said this had been a two-year battle for her, but noted it had affected her neighbours for 10 years, and the issue dates back to 2006.

Previous news coverage from 2006 about the issue states: “Cockburn St was identified by council staff in 1970 as an area in need of attention”.

“For 10 years, the council has somewhat ignored the fact that its poor infrastructure has directly affected the health and wellbeing of whanau within their district,” Robens said.

“Myself and my child have had to walk through sewage water for two days before the council decided they had time to relocate my portaloo.

“I’ve had to use a portaloo in winter weather while having covid.

“I then had to have an extra three days off work unpaid after my covid turned into a chest infection that I have no doubt was a direct result of using a portaloo in the wet and the cold.”

She said the council is obligated under the Health Act to improve, promote, and protect public health within its district.

“Enough is enough. The council’s time of getting away with diminishing mine and my son’s health has come to an end. No longer will we accept excuses.

“I’m physically, emotionally, and financially done. Uphold your legal responsibilities, and I will continue to uphold mine.”

Charters, whose husband Jason has trained to be a plumber and drainlayer as a result of the wastewater issue, said the council is putting her family at risk of sickness and disease.

“When it starts raining, that’s when I start to stress and worry, thinking, ‘Shit, how long or hard is it going to rain?’.

“This situation is a mental mindf***.

“Why haven’t you fought harder for our rights?

“We have paid you rates for 10 years for you to completely ignore your obligations under legislation and our basic human rights.”

Charters said as a result of the overflows, her daughter was toilet-trained on a portaloo and her son has developed an anxiety disorder.

Her family has also experienced infections during times when they’ve had no use of water and have had to use portaloos.

“It’s hard to think about everything we have endured for the past 10 years.

“The stress, the anxiety, the depression really has affected our family.”

She said there had been times she felt so hopeless “and we can’t breathe”.

Her husband Jason said the council is “breaking every code, regulation, health act, and legislation that relates to this”.

He has given the council a solution “by means of installing pump chambers at the boundaries of [the affected] properties with non-return valves in the pump lines to stop the sewage back-feeding up”.

He also wants the council and residents to have a meeting to discuss an agreeable solution.

Another resident, Tracey Robens, gave her “victim impact statement” over Zoom.

“When we purchased our property in Cockburn St, I didn’t think for one minute that I was putting the health and safety of my whanau at risk.

“I’ve never been so wrong in my life.

“I’ve paid well over half a million dollars for the luxury to live in a sewage pond.

“The smell of raw sewage reverberates under and through our homes.

“The very odour of sewage sits on the lining of our nostrils.”

Robens said her and her neighbours’ properties are at “the lowest point of the sewage infrastructure, which means we are literally living in a sewage pond”.

She said it is public knowledge that this sewage problem has been ongoing since 2006 and said the council had shown a “patterned behaviour of criminal negligence”.

“How dare you stand by and witness the detrimental health impacts on our whanau?

“How dare you put my rates up and not give me a rate refund?

“How dare you sit in that position of responsibility and not adhere to your own laws?

“If you don’t live in my house, don’t ever tell me you understand because, quite simply, you don’t.

“How dare you, Masterton District Council?”

Former MP Marama Fox, who introduced the speakers to the council, said the residents have an ultimatum.

“The whanau have said we refuse to accept portaloos after June 1 this year ever again.

“They are not a solution. It never was. It’s not a temporary fix because you haven’t fixed anything.

“We do think it’s negligent, and when you do it repeatedly like that, that’s criminal, because you are obliged under the law to uphold the health and safety of people when your system breaks down.”

She said the council owes the residents compensation and at least a rates rebate.

Masterton Mayor Gary Caffell thanked the residents for their presentation and said a meeting would be arranged between council staff and residents regarding an agreeable solution.

The issue will also be “discussed at length at our Infrastructure and Services Committee”.

“As mayor of this council, I know that you don’t want to hear us say, ‘We’ve heard what you’ve said, and we’ve listened’ – we understand that you want action, and we want action too.”

In a statement after the meeting, Caffell’s said the situation had been “front and centre for many of us, and we acknowledge the issues raised at the council meeting”.

“We are in discussions with these impacted families to finalise installing a temporary solution. A meeting to discuss this should take place soon, and work will get underway quickly following that.

“We are also continuing with our scheduled wastewater renewal programme to address the broader issue of stormwater entering the wastewater network.” – NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air


  1. We have the problem of water backing up into our toilets etc up in French St, I think it’s a common event in Masterton and it’s time the Council bit the bullet and put in a Pumping Station instead of relying on gravity. This really is like living in a third world area at times and the problem is only going to get worse as the City expands. Come on Council, get your heads out of the sand and do something.

  2. We are hoping that the new

    homes to go up inKuripuni street will not affect the shambles that we have already with no drains working and sewerage flowing down the drive and under the house.it has to be fixed

  3. Surely you realise by now that prime function of councils is not to serve the needs of ratepayers and businesses but merely to ensure continuance of existence and serve their needs and the requirements of central government. To changes this paradigm is a Herculean task for which I have no answers but at least I see the fundamental problem

  4. We have had the same problem in Ballance St. Not as bad as Cockburn St where my husband and I have not been able to use any water at all. My husband was also a plumber, so he knew that using water would only make the problem worse. So I am dreading this coming winter and what will happen if we have lots of rain. My husband was 86 and just could not get into a portaloo, I am 81.

Comments are closed.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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