Three Waters Reform
STDC says No to Three Waters
At Tuesday’s (19 July) extraordinary meeting South Taranaki District Councillors unanimously approved a submission vigorously opposing the Government’s Three Waters Reform Proposal.
The submission comes following the introduction of the Government’s Water Services Entities Bill, which is currently sitting with Parliaments Finance and Expenditure Select Committee.
The controversial Bill, if enacted in its current form, will take control, management, and delivery of three waters services (water, wastewater, and storm water) away from councils and give them to four mega entities. Under the legislation all three waters staff, assets and liabilities will transfer to the new entities on 1 July 2024.
For South Taranaki this means the Council’s three water assets would be taken over by the Western - Central entity, an amalgamation of 22 Councils across the Waikato (including Hamilton), Bay of Plenty (including Tauranga and Whakatane) and Taranaki Regions and the Ruapehu, Whanganui and Rangitikei Districts.
South Taranaki Mayor, Phil Nixon says the Council submission accepts some reform is needed in the three waters space, however not the centralised ‘one size fits none’ approach the government has taken.
“The Government’s analysis underpinning their whole programme is totally flawed. The degree of investment claimed to be needed is considerably overstated and the supposed cost savings under the proposal are highly implausible. Critically, ownership and accountability has been taken away from the communities who actually own the assets,” says Nixon.
“Our Council has a good track record for delivering three waters infrastructure for building, maintaining, and operating this infrastructure. We certainly have the financial capacity to continue to do this and under our own long-term plan we would have achieved the outcomes Government is seeking well before 2050. We simply don’t see the value for our communities in the proposed reforms,” he says.
Nixon says the Council has been extremely disappointed with the government’s handling of this proposed reform.
“There has been no meaningful consultation with Iwi, Council or our community – the promise of opting out was taken away from us, and it’s been Councils that have had to continue to engage in good faith and not the other way around. I can only hope that the Government takes our concerns seriously and listens to the wishes of the people.”
You can read the Council’s full submission on the Water Services Entities Bill here.
Government Mandates Councils Must Join Three Waters Entities
On Thursday 27 October 2021 Local Government, Minister Nanaia Mahuta, said the Government would create four new water entities that would take on the water assets currently owned by councils. The legislation to do that would be introduced as early as December 2021.
Council's Response - Anger and Dismay
South Taranaki District Mayor, Phil Nixon and his councillors were angry and appalled with the Government’s decision to mandate that Councils have to be part of the 3 waters reform and made the following statement:
"We were consistently told by the Government that there would be opportunity for full public consultation on this hugely important matter. But now, and after the majority of Councils have asked the Government to pause and rethink, they have ignored us and taken any decision making completely out of our hands. It’s wrong, its anti-democratic. This Government seems determined to centralise everything. Let’s not forget that the assets we’re talking about have been paid for by our communities, not the Government. To say that our Council will retain ownership under the existing proposal is a joke. The claims the system is in crisis are highly inflated as are the benefits of reform. While we accepted that things needed some change, this move to force councils to participate without public consultation is totally unacceptable. Our Council will be letting the government know our dissatisfaction in no uncertain terms, however I’d also encourage every resident to contact their local MP to let them know what they think about the Government’s decision.”
On 12 November the Mayor and Councillors wrote to the Minister of Local Government, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, requesting that the Government reverse its decision. You can see a copy of that letter here.
Communities 4 Local Democracy - He hapori mō te Manapori
Communities 4 Local Democracy is a newly formed and growing group of 32 councils from around the country. The group was created in response to serious concerns about the Government’s Three Waters reforms, and numbers are growing as local councils consider the implications of the proposed legislation – in particular losing control of approximately $60 billion of community owned assets across the whole country.
You can find out more about Communities for Local Democracy on the website www.communities4localdemocracy.co.nz
STDC Joins Communities 4 Local Democracy
On 14 December 2021 agreed to join a group of 23 councils (Communities 4 Local Democracy*) opposed to central government’s Three Waters Reform model and campaign in favour of other three waters options that meet the needs of community, councils and government. You can read more about that decision here.
The following day South Taranaki Mayor, Phil Nixon was one of a large group of Mayors, representing more than a million New Zealanders, who took their Three Waters concerns to Parliament and launched the Communities 4 Local Democracy campaign. You can read more about the launch here.
Predictably Disappointing Feedback from Hamstrung Working Group
Feedback from the Government’s three waters working group was ”predictably disappointing” according to the group representing 1.5 million New Zealanders and almost half of New Zealand’s territorial local authorities. Read more here.
3 Waters - An Alternative Programme that everyone can support
Mayors and CEs representing the 32 member councils of Communities 4 Local Democracy He hapori mō te Manapori (C4LD) have presented politicians with their plan for three waters reform that could gain wide support.
The mayors presented their 10-point plan for reform to the Minister for Local Government, Nanaia Mahuta and Department of Internal Affairs officials, as well as Green Party Co-Leaders Marama Davidson and James Shaw, and Green MP Eugenie Sage. The group had already presented its models to the National Party and ACT.
South Taranaki District Mayor Phil Nixon said that the group is keen to work with all parties to ensure any reforms have the broad base of support needed for major long-term infrastructure investment.
“The proposals we’ve brought to the table enable the Government to deliver on all its aims, create opportunities for strong and lasting partnerships and deliver safe, sustainable and affordable water services for all New Zealand,” he said.
“They enable us build on existing partnerships and forge new relationships with Mana Whenua at a local level that consider co-design and partnership arrangements to acknowledge and enable Te Tiriti based pathways at a local and regional level.
“They also provide for the continuation of local influence and community property rights.
“We’re confident that we’re in line with the majority of New Zealanders. Our community have certainly given STDC a clear message that they’re not in support of the government’s reform model and I regularly get called or stopped in the street to have that message reinforced. We’ve presented a reform framework that is directly supported by nearly half of councils in New Zealand and is aligned with the views of the majority of other councils, most notably Auckland representing 1.7 million people.
“Unlike the Government’s reform proposal, which has proven so unpopular that it has to be mandated, our alternative framework is something that everyone can get behind.
“We’re talking about major changes to the ownership and running of long-term assets. These have been built up and paid for by generations of ratepayers, who have the reasonable expectation that they would remain in community control.
“Reform of this magnitude shouldn’t be rushed through Parliament in the face of massive public and sector opposition, and with the barest minimum of public engagement and scrutiny.
“We should be given the opportunity to use our local knowledge to deliver better alternatives to the current proposal, which independent analysis shows has a significant number of flaws.
“Just because the Government has the power to force through this reform doesn’t mean that it should. We need to collaborate to ensure the legislation reflects the needs of the whole community.
“It is not too late to rescue this reform.
“We are not that far apart in our objectives, what we are offering in our 10-point plan is an approach that we believe would achieve broad support.
“The whole local government sector is eager to partner and work with the Government to turn this around and find a lasting solution that we can all support,” said Mayor Nixon.
The full presentation to the minister outlining C4LD’s framework for reform is available on the link below:
Background to the Reform
In July 2020, the Government launched its Three Waters Reform – a three-year programme to reform local government three waters (wastewater, drinking water and stormwater) service delivery arrangements.
Currently South Taranaki District Council, along with 66 other councils, own and operate the majority of these assets across New Zealand.
Under the reform, the Government wants to amalgamate these services and create four multi-regional entities (with a bottom line of public ownership) to take over the service delivery and management of water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure currently done by councils.
For South Taranaki, this would mean that our three waters assets (as well as the debt attached to these assets) would be taken over by a new entity (Entity B) that would include 22 councils across the Waikato (including Hamilton), Bay of Plenty (including Tauranga and Whakatāne) and Taranaki Regions and the Ruapehu, Whanganui and Rangatīkei Districts.
The map (below) shows the proposed boundaries of Entity B.
The South Taranaki District Council agreed to participate in the initial stage of the programme. This gave us a seat at the table, together with Government and regional partners, to explore the local impacts of the Three Waters Reform programme.
For our participation, we were granted $5.4 million in government funding to strengthen water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure and services across the district. At the time it was made clear by the Government that participating in the initial stage did not mean we would have to participate in any further stages of the reform.
In July 2021 the Government announced a further $18.2 million funding package for our district if we chose to opt-in to these reforms. This funding was to ensure that councils were supported through the transition process, that financial impacts of reform were managed and importantly, all councils and communities could transition to amalgamation and be “no worse off” than they are now.
The Government, through the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), set up a brief snapshot of what it could look like with and without reforms in 2051, and how we are currently tracking. You can see this below or by heading here.
The Government gave every council until the end of September 2021 to take a close look at the reform proposals and assess their impact on them and their community.
Following this engagement period the Government said it would consider next steps, including the process and revised timing for consultation and decision-making.
There was a commitment from all parties for the need to spend more time working through some issues that are important to all of us. These were:
- Ensuring all communities have both a voice in the system and influence over local decisions. This means being sure the water entities understand and act on communities’ needs and wants.
- Effective representation on the new water entities’ oversight boards so that there is strong accountability to the communities they serve. This includes effective assurance that entities, which will remain in public ownership, cannot be privatised in future.
- Making sure councils’ plans for growth are appropriately integrated with water services planning
Had council reached a position on whether they supported the reforms?
No they had not. During August and September the Council spent a lot of time analysing the huge amount of information the government provided and identified a number of outstanding concerns and questions about the governments modelling and reform proposal. These were outlined in a statement from our Mayor but essentially the key questions and concerns were:
1. How will the governance of the new entities be set up to ensure that South Taranaki District retains its voice over its assets, and that local priorities and development patterns are provided for across the large areas?
2. Will our ratepayers really be better off financially as a result of this proposal?
3. What will the impact of the change be on the Council organisation that remains after the change and what will local government look like in the future?
4. Is bigger actually better and are the efficiency assumptions made by Government realistic?
5. How can the three waters assets be separated from our other assets?
While the government indicated formal consultation with the community would come later, our Council felt it was important to get our residents thoughts on the proposal and conducted a survey during this period to assess local impacts and concerns and help inform our feedback.
Feedback to the Government
On Monday 27 September the Council formally expressed its concerns to the Government about its Three Waters reform proposal at an extraordinary meeting. Essentially Council was not convinced of the case for wholesale change which the Government was proposing with one of its biggest concerns being how local priorities would be met and delivered in a large entity.
You can read the statement made by the Council following the meeting here and the formal feedback given to the Government here.
Our Council was of the clear understanding (and expectation) that the Government would (or at least would give us the ability to) effectively consult with our communities before any decisions were made on whether to support the reforms or not. However this option was removed from the Council on Thursday 27 October 2021 when the Government confirmed that it was going to push ahead with the Reform and introduce legislation that would force Council's to be part of the new entity set up.
You can find out more about the Three Waters Reform Programme on the DIA website here.