Back in 2000, the Far North District Council identified the need to address the septic issue and planned to reticulate sewerage from homes in central Kerikeri to an upgraded Paihia treatment plant. It was going to cost around 30 million dollars but the global financial crisis put the project on hold. Since then Kerikeri’s growth has slowed and the cost is no longer viable. The town is, however, still growing and the problem has worsened, so Council needed to find an affordable solution. Having always struggled to engage with ratepayers and with feedback opportunities generally met with apathy, they faced a real challenge.
Even for those interested in local body politics, faecal matter and how we dispose of it is not generally a topic for polite conversation.
But sewerage treatment is a serious matter and when presented with five creative options, Council was bold enough to take the most memorable/ highest risk concept...albeit with precautions. All copy was checked for technical competency, political sensitivity and appraised for compliance before it was even considered from a creative perspective.
Although explaining the potential solutions involved lots of technical info, it was important to achieve a conversational tone and to give people enough information to make an informed decision without overwhelming them. This was carefully balanced against the need to provide extensive reports and data to interested parties and to meet best practise and governmental audit requirements.
Featuring the iconic kiwi longdrop that people associated with “the good old days” and summer holidays at the bach, loads of humour turned sewerage systems into a topic of everyday conversation. What’s more, this very contentious issue was often being discussed with a smile… you try explaining to a ratepayer why their rates could potentially double!
Facebook, newspapers and radio stations around the country were full of it and even TV1 ran a story, turning a local discussion into a national conversation. The campaign resulted in unprecedented turnouts at public meetings and a record-breaking number of votes.