Thursday, 30 September 2021

Time for the Govt to listen on Three Waters


“It is critical that New Zealanders have access to safe drinking water and high-quality infrastructure for storm and wastewater. Currently the system is not up to scratch, but the Government’s proposed reforms simply miss the mark,” says ACT’s Local Government spokesperson Simon Court.

“Nanaia Mahuta claims councils have failed to maintain their water assets, and the only way to avoid sewage on the beaches and coming out of shower heads was to remove those assets from community control.

“She has given local communities and councils one reason for the Three Waters reform, which is different from what she told fellow Ministers in her Cabinet paper - that the reform would solve a problem for the Government around Māori interests in freshwater.

“Officials produced a report from the Scottish Water Authority which claimed costs to ratepayers and communities would be up to five times higher under future council ownership, a claim which turned out to be unsupported by evidence when reviewed by the international water firm Castalia.

“Only one option to fix the problem with water infrastructure has been offered by Government, the Scottish model, which applies to a completely different population density, geography and infrastructure needs. Otherwise opt out completely from the process, which many councils have already voted to do.

“The Government proposal takes councils assets and put them under the control of four corporates, whose regional grouping was completely divorced from the way local communities related to each other.

“There are not one, but two boards for each entity, one commercial and the other made up of selected local and Māori representatives in a co-governance model, that can only be explained by the Ministers intention to solve the Governments problem around Māori interests in fresh water

“The Government gave councils only six weeks to respond to the proposal and did not consider how much time they would need to consult with their own communities, a legal requirement when transferring or disposing any assets or land.

“The Government has run a campaign against local government using public money to fund a television advertising campaign showing sewage coming out of shower heads and was surprised that councils lost all faith in the consultation process.

“ACT, as a constructive and solutions-focused political party, exists to promote and implement better policy for all New Zealanders. That is why ACT proposed our own Three Waters plan to the 67 councils. We have received detailed feedback from Mayors, many who support all or some aspects of the ACT plan.”

ACT’s Water Infrastructure Plan would:

• Provide for councils to enter into voluntary “shared services” agreements, gaining the benefits of scale, while retaining local ownership and control
• Establish long term 30-year Central Government-Local Government Partnership agreements to plan water infrastructure upgrades tailored to specific regions
• Establish Public-Private Partnerships (through our proposed Nation Building Agency) to attract investment from financial entities such as KiwiSaver funds, ACC, iwi investment funds, etc
• Expand the exemption from domestic supply for a single dwelling to also include all small water suppliers supplying fewer than 30 endpoint users.

“There is a case for reform in the way waters assets are managed and funded, but it is highly unlikely to be the single option offered to communities and councils by officials.

“Simply shifting water assets from one government body to another is a recipe for more bureaucracy and less local input, not an enduring solution to upgrade water infrastructure in New Zealand.

“ACT’s plan will better balance community control of water assets alongside a plan for levelling up the necessary infrastructure to ensure safety and efficient water allocation.”