Local Government Magazine
3 Waters

On the right course: Which stormwater project?

Stormwater project

Auckland Council’s new stormwater project identification guidelines help set a clear direction for the future.

Auckland Council has resolved a series of inter-connected issues by working with consultants Morrison Low to create a set of stormwater project identification guidelines. The guidance document was developed to improve the success rate of stormwater capital projects and better align to council’s strategic objectives. Written for the internal stormwater practitioner, the document provides a common understanding on what projects will be accepted.

Challenges

Takeaways

In preparing the stormwater project identification guidelines, there were some valuable lessons learnt to share with other councils that may wish to develop similar guidelines:

• Decide early on if the guidelines will cover just the “why” 
(ie, strategic fit and justification for investment) or the “how” (ie, the necessary process tasks and signs offs) 
or both.

• Gauge and understand the sensitivity internally of the rejected projects to date.

• Decide early on when to engage internally. Should you wait until you have a strawman for discussion purposes or gather internal feedback at the start?

• Should it align with the New Zealand government’s Better Business Case Investment Process?

• What are the existing project identification processes and tools? How will these guidelines complement them?

In the initial five-year period of the newly-formed Auckland Council, stormwater capital projects of the legacy councils were mainly being implemented. The Healthy Waters Department (formerly known as the Stormwater Unit) wished to start implementing projects that better reflected the strategic direction of the new council.

The department recognised it needed to improve the stormwater capital projects to ensure that they were aligned to the agreed levels of service as adopted in the 2015 Long Term Plan and their goal to make the significant shift to becoming a water sensitive community over time.

A key challenge for the department was that some of the stormwater capital projects, as identified by the legacy councils, were over-specified and not aligned to the agreed levels of service. Also, there were not enough growth-driven stormwater projects coming through the project pipeline to be implemented. And pressure was being applied to focus project planning resources and investment on Auckland’s growth priority areas.

It was important that a transparent and consistent approach was being applied across the department to identify the right projects with the right priorities.

Solutions

A guidance type document was identified as the most appropriate format to guide the internal stormwater practitioners on the key decision making steps to ensure projects were not mistakenly advanced unnecessarily. The focus was to provide guidance to key stormwater staff with sound business criteria to help with project scoping.

Morrison Low’s stormwater asset management specialist worked in collaboration with the department’s teams to develop the guidelines to improve their stormwater project planning. Easy-to-use process maps and supporting notes were developed for the four investment programmes so the internal user knows what information is required for a project to be accepted to proceed and be implemented.

Examples and enquiring questions were used throughout the document to provide prompts for the internal users. With this approach, it was clear on “what will fly and not fly”. For example, stream erosion projects in private watercourses only progressed where there was proven council liability.

For future project planning, there is clarity of what is required for stormwater capital projects to be accepted at the onset.


This article was first published in the September 2016 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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