Northlake developer blames QLDC for not fixing child-risk drains

by Kim Bowden - Jun 07, 2023

A Northlake developer has repeatedly asked to work with the Queenstown Lakes District Council to fix some potentially dangerous drains in the family-friendly subdivision, but the council thinks they are fine as is and people should just stay clear of them.

Mother-of-four Aleisha Murphy says she became alarmed after her 12 year old manoeuvred through a gap between a grate and a concrete wall positioned around a stormwater drain near a retention pond on Outlet Road.

This happened in April, prompting her to raise safety concerns with the council at the time, as well as post a photo to a local parenting group online, to raise awareness of the risk.

Yesterday, during a walk around her neighbourhood, Mrs Murphy noticed the pipes and grates remain unaltered, despite what she says were initial assurances from the council staff member she spoke to the issue would be followed up on with the developer.

'Northlake has repeatedly since mid-April offered to work with the QLDC to get this matter resolved with all urgency': project manager.

But, it appears the council itself signed off on the drains two years ago, happy with both their design and installation. The drains are no longer the responsibility of the developer – they are a QLDC asset.

Today, the council has confirmed to Crux it believes the drains are fit for purpose and no action will be taken to make them safer.

Its message: members of the public simply need to stay away from them. 

However, Northlake developer Winton says it is the council that is ultimately responsible for any health and safety issues related to the drains, and it thinks action should be taken.

Winton’s project delivery general manager Duncan Elley says the original photo of Mrs Murphy’s showing her child behind the grate was shared with them back in April.

Northlake immediately requested responses from the civil contractor who installed the grate as well as the manufacturer. These responses were shared with the QLDC.

“Northlake also sought independent advice from a consultant health and safety advisor to review the facts and determine what more we could do.

“The fact is that the headwall and the grate are QLDC assets and, as such, the QLDC has full responsibility for health and safety.”

The headwall and grate were installed after approval by the QLDC, Mr Elley says.

“Northlake has repeatedly since mid-April offered to work with the QLDC to get this matter resolved with all urgency.”

Yesterday, after receiving questions from Crux about the dangerous drain, Winton says it once again contacted the council seeking a resolution, which in its view “needs to happen”.

A drainage crew from the Queenstown branch of Wilson Contractors installed the pipe, headwall and grate. 

Company general manager Mike McAllister says the company was made aware of the photo and had been in discussion with Winton about it.

Northlake mother Aleisha Murphy: 'What if a toddler gets in there...falls over...couple of centimetres of over'.

They are more then willing to work to change the set-up, if the council decides it is necessary, he says.

The company would have ordered the headwall and grate package from Humes, he says. 

“We definitely wouldn’t have made that or spec’d that ourselves.”

Humes, a Kiwi company that makes concrete pipes and precast concrete products, says while it would have made the headwall, it would have sourced the grate from a separate manufacturer.

The stormwater design is the work of Paterson Pitts Group Wānaka.

QLDC infrastructure operations manager Simon Mason says council contractor Veolia visited the Outlet Road site within a week of receiving Mrs Murphy’s call on April 13.

Then, a little more than a month later, on May 17, three staff members from the council’s own three waters team headed there too for a look.

After discussing the matter with the original supplier and confirming the correct grate had been installed, their verdict: the design of the grill, pipe and headwall is fit for purpose and no action is required.

Whilst we appreciate the member of the public raising their concern with us, we do not believe there is fault with any aspect of the design. 

The same or similar products are in place across the QLDC network. We expect the same or similar products are also in use in other parts of the country.”

Mr Mason says the pond system is designed to manage stormwater flows and prevent flooding; the grates are designed to prevent a build-up of debris from entering the pipe connecting two ponds - if they manage to deter entry too, well that is just a bonus, in his view.

However, he says the council “obviously strongly discourage anyone from playing or interfering with any aspect of three waters infrastructure”, and sent a letter to all community associations across the district in December to stress this safety message.

QLDC is standing by its Northlake drains - but would an alternate design have made them safer to protect local children?

Mrs Murphy says in sharing the photo of her child behind the drain grate to illustrate the risk for others she was aware of opening herself up to “parent shaming”.

“I was fully expecting people to jump on and say, ‘Well, there’s water everywhere and you should be watching your kids’.”

She says she’s helped to raise some curious, active kids – and there are plenty of others like them living in the new subdivision, exploring distance from the drains.

Back in April she was confident she was supervising her 12 year old adequately and was close at hand to advise him that what he had done was not a smart move - but others may not be as lucky.

“We’d just moved to Northlake, so the kids were wanting to explore the area...I turned around and my 12 year old was inside the grate and I was like, ‘Holy shit’ and obviously got him out straight away. 

“I get that it’s to catch big logs and stuff like that but I just had all these things going through my head – like, what if a toddler gets in there, walks into the little drain, falls over, couple centimetres of water, the parent doesn’t see them running around looking for their toddler – it’s game over, right?”

She says she understands living in Wānaka there is “water all around”, but she remains adamant that for a council to approve such a stormwater set-up, “surely the grates need to go to the edge”.

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