The full picture of council’s assets were laid bare after council undertook a review as part of its 2018-28 Transport Asset Management Plan (AMP). Photo: Supplied.

Our unknown assets

Hundreds of assets, not known to belong to council, to cost millions


Nelson City Council is responsible for thousands of signs and more than 100 retaining walls that it didn’t know it owned, many of which have been poorly maintained with some at a high risk of failure.

The stark assessment means that millions more ratepayer dollars needs to be allocated to ensure their upkeep.

The full picture of council’s assets were laid bare after council undertook a review as part of its 2018-28 Transport Asset Management Plan (AMP).

The review revealed that council owns 3253 more road signs than the original 2910 that was estimated – a total of 6163.

A detailed inspection of all council-owned retaining walls was carried out in 2007 and since then council has found another 130 walls that it is responsible for, the condition of many of which were unknown.

The valuation of the retaining walls and associated handrails went from $51m to $95m – a total of 419 walls. This has created a huge gap in the expected upkeep costs.

Four retaining walls on Arapiki Rd were identified as being at high-risk of structural failure.

But council’s group manager infrastructure, Alec Louverdis, says money has already been allocated to fix them over the next two years which falls within the required timeline of 2-5 years.

Alec says he also doesn’t know why council didn’t know where all of their signs were, but the important thing going forward is that they do now.

“I don’t know, I think if you’d asked me a similar question about how many dustpans do we have, we know that now and our drive to get better data is part of realising that do we know where all our signs are?

“It could come across as negative that you didn’t know where 3000 signs were, but we do know now,” says Alec.

The asset management plan showed that of council’s 6163 signs, 70 per cent of them were of very poor, poor or unknown condition.

The level of damage could be anything from sun-fade to structural damage of the sign or its support.

A council spokesperson says their contractor targeted replacing and repairing the very poor signs in 2016/17, so almost all of the 622 have now been dealt with. “Of the signs in poor condition, 92 are scheduled for repair in the next 12 weeks.”

They say the rest will be dealt as an ongoing part of the normal maintenance programme.
Alec says part of the issue with dealing with retaining walls is that their ownership can be diffi cult to figure out.

He says it’s not just a matter of black and white ownership, with some walls being on council property while others are on private property.

“We look at one of the walls on Arapiki Rd and we can say this is ours; it’s on our land, it’s supporting our footpath, so ownership is very clear.

“There are a number of retaining walls that are private, but are on road reserve, and there are a number of retaining walls that have been done as subdivisions and driveways.”

Alec says up until now council haven’t had a good handle on their retaining wall assets but it’s an area they’re putting more resources into.

“There are still some discussions to be had in terms of who put that wall in when it was there to retain a driveway etc.”

He says it’s not as though council haven’t been doing any work on their retaining walls.

“I mean, a large number of our retaining walls we know where they are. It was the ones where we were unclear on where they  are in relation to road reserve. Do they feed private property, private driveways, right of ways etc. We’re getting to better grips on that.”

The annual renewal cost of the walls is now $544,000 over the next 30 years instead of the $300-400,000 that is currently budgeted. He says it is essential to ensure the ongoing health of this “significant asset”.

Alec says they now have a better idea of what needs to be done and where ownership lies, particularly around new subdivisions.