News | 9 February 2016

Drainage laterals: bring them back in-house?

Wellington City Council’s Environment Committee will next week (Thursday 11 February) consider a proposal that the Council accept ownership of, and responsibility for, the repair and renewal of private sewerage laterals where they cross roads and road verges.

The committee will be asked to agree to seek Council approval to take over ownership and responsibility for the portion of wastewater service pipes (laterals) in road reserve.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says that the proposal responds to issues raised in the past year where some property owners who have complained of “significant and, in cases, unaffordable costs” faced when they have to repair laterals under roads and, in some cases, incur traffic management fees.

Mayor Wade-Brown says the proposed laterals policy change would also be good for the health of harbours, beaches and streams. “Pollution elimination is increasingly important to Wellingtonians - the change would enable the Council to more efficiently, quickly and effectively deal with broken sewerage laterals and thus reduce contamination of the stormwater network.”

The proposal would reverse a decision in 2005 by the City Council to make property owners responsible for the whole length of the lateral – from the house or building to the point where it joins the Council ‘main’ (usually under roadway on public land).

The Environment Committee Chair, Councillor Iona Pannett, says “reversing the policy would have significant benefits to the community – protecting critical infrastructure and the environment whilst reducing potentially daunting costs for some residents who have to deal with breakages under the road.

“Bringing the responsibility back ‘in-house’ also enables the Council and Wellington Water to keep far better tabs on the overall state of our infrastructure and plan for the future – and it means that more cost-effective work can be done to fix laterals.”

The public would also be able to have a say on the proposal as part of the 2016-17 Annual Plan consultation from late March.


  • Wastewater service pipes - technically called laterals - are pipes that connect the plumbing in a building to public sewer mains.
  • Some 44,000 of the 64,000 laterals in Wellington City have a portion in road reserve. Some 215 kilometres, representing 15 percent of the total length of laterals, are in road reserve (the remaining 85 percent is in private property).
  • The Lateral Policy 2005 has been perceived as unfair by some because:
    • Most damage to wastewater laterals in road reserve comes from the roots of ‘Council’ trees in the road reserve, wear and tear, and work by the Council or other organisations on other utilities or, for example, road repairs.
    • Working to repair laterals under roadways is costly for private owners as it requires traffic control measures.
    • Property owners have little to no control over damage in the road reserve.