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New Zealand Plumbers, Drainlayers & Gasfitters Association Inc

New Zealand Plumbers, Drainlayers & Gasfitters
Association Inc

Latest News / Retirement complex plumbing: Text leaks raise a stink for Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace

Retirement complex plumbing: Text leaks raise a stink for Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace

RNZ – 25th September 2019

Texts about a retirement complex's unsafe plumbing, which Hutt City Council (HCC) said did not exist, were in fact sent to the mayor who later deleted them.

Woburn Apartments in Lower Hutt. Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

Residents at nearly 100 apartments in Woburn were exposed to noxious sewer gases and bacteria because of the plumbing, which had been consented and signed off by the council after being reviewed by a registered plumber.

The Plumbers Gasfitters & Drainlayers Board told the council in July 2018 they were investigating.

Another plumber, Mike Stevenson, who uncovered the problems and sent a report to the council and the plumbers board, texted mayor Ray Wallace in February concerned about delays to repairs at the homes, including nine photos showing the gunk in the drains.

Mr Wallace then told his chief executive the plumber believed it was a dangerous and "life-threatening" issue for the elderly residents.

The plumber followed up by texting the mayor: "Hello Mr Wallace. I have attached a small sample of pictures of the Woburn site for your reference. I look forward to your call."

Mr Wallace texted back in February: "I am awaiting a full report from council staff in how this matter is being addressed ... be assured I have asked how this situation has been allowed to happen."

The texts were deleted by the mayor, and the council failed to provide the pictures, in response to an official RNZ request for all communications about the plumbing.

In a response, the mayor's spokesperson said the text messages were "transitory information and generally speaking will be repeated in other correspondence (such as email) rendering the text redundant".

"The Mayor saw no need to retain a copy of the text from Mr Stevenson (dated 14 February 2019) as he had earlier raised the issue via email with the former HCC Chief Executive on 11 February following a phone call from Mr Stevenson," the spokesperson said.

The council did not provide those photos until sending one last night and the remainder today.

The texts only came to light when RNZ contacted Mr Stevenson.

The Ombudsman has warned public agencies for years that texts are considered public records, and must be carefully managed.

The Hutt City Council has said it had done all that was required since being alerted in mid-2018. It signed off the plumbing as compliant with the Building Code, but the July 2018 audit found scores of drains were "unsafe".