Two Wānaka drains - why does QLDC think they are both child-safe?

by Kim Bowden - Jun 09, 2023

Despite reassurances from the Queenstown Lakes District Council a bunch of Northlake drains are fit-for-purpose and similar to others like them across the district, a quick trip round the corner to neighbouring subdivision Hikuwai reveals a much more child-safe design.

You wouldn't blame Northlake mother Aleisha Murphy for regretting bringing it up - she has been accused of not taking responsibility for the behaviour of her own children after sharing the story of her 12 year old crawling in behind a grill covering a stormwater outlet pipe in the Wānaka subdivision and approaching the council with her safety concerns.

When Crux went to council for answers earlier this week, QLDC infrastructure operations manager Simon Mason told us there is no fault with any aspect of the design of their Northlake drains and the same or similar products are in place across the QLDC network and, he expects, across the country.

Mrs Murphy's beef with the Northlake model is the gap between the edge of the grill and the headwall - that precast concrete shield nestling the drain. She says it creates a hazard as it is big enough for a child to slip through but too small for an adult to venture in to retrieve them.

Meanwhile Mrs Murphy reckons the grill protecting the Hikuwai drain from floating logs and other debris is a perfect fit, with the added bonus of making the drowning hazard kid-proof too - when Mr Mason told Crux the Northlake drains are replicated everywhere else, he didn't mention, or hadn't noticed, this vital difference.

Mrs Murphy gets that there are plenty of hazards around the district and parental responsibility is a no-brainer, but she stands by her opinion that, at Northlake, the council has signed-off on a drain design that brings with it its own introduced risk, and that is not ok.

Northlake 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 in April. Despite reassurances at the time from the council of action, nothing has happened.

"I know the chances of someone drowning are slim, but let's make that chance as low as possible.

"I really hope the council fixes this, and also makes some changes to their regulations and policies, so there is some consistency with the safety of these drains."

Mrs Murphy thinks it is a weak response for the council to say because there are other drains like the Northlake ones, so that lets it off the hook.

"That's something my five year old would say: 'Well, he did it first'.

"When we know better, we do better. Be the bigger person, listen to your community, and show some responsibility."

Mrs Murphy says despite reassurances from the council when she first contacted them in April that action would be taken nothing has happened. 

In May, she received an email from the council's customer services team, which Crux has seen, saying the drains were not yet a council asset and were the responsibility of the developer, Winton. She says she also received a follow-up phone call, and although she has no record of it her recollection is being told that the council had followed up with the developer "and that if they didn't do something, then the council would follow it up as they see it as an issue".

The council this week told Crux the drains were actually signed off by the council two years ago, and not the responsibility of the developer at all.

Crux sent the council some follow-up question on Thursday, regarding why a member of the public was told any issue with the drains rested with Winton, the reason for the different grill measurements between neighbourhoods, and whether council compliance teams had a set of standards they referred to when making a decision to approve this particular stormwater or if it was all subjective.

We were told Mr Mason would consider our questions "later next week".

Mrs Murphy says since the story was published on Crux, a staff member at the Queenstown Lakes District Council has asked to meet with her onsite.

Read more: Northlake developer blames QLDC for not fixing child-risk drains

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