Mayor responds as government mandates three waters reforms
Published on October 27, 2021
Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall says he is disappointed the government has decided to mandate its proposals to amalgamate three waters services.
He says, “The decision-making process has been effectively removed from local councils and their communities, leaving us without the ability to consult formally or vote on these crucial changes.”
Decisions were outlined in an announcement by local government minister, Nanaia Mahuta today. The government will create four publicly owned water entities which will collectively govern the three waters assets on behalf of the councils and provide three waters services to the community.
“For Whanganui this means all our three waters assets, including our wastewater treatment plant and network, our drinking water services and supply and our stormwater network will be managed by an entity comprising 22 districts, including New Plymouth, Hamilton, Taupō, Hamilton and Tauranga,” says Mayor Hamish.
The government has said it will establish a working group of local government, iwi and water industry experts to address entity design and provide an opportunity for public participation and consultation. Safeguards are to be put in place to ensure continued public ownership and prevent privatisation of the three waters assets.
Mayor Hamish says, “I hope the government does follow through on its promise to ‘work with councils and ensure that local participation is evident in the critical next phase’. As legislation goes through it may be that a Select Committee process is the only opportunity for the public to provide feedback on the reforms.”
Throughout August and September, Whanganui District Council assessed the model and what it would mean for Whanganui, received feedback from the community and forwarded questions to the government about its three waters proposals.
“Along with many other councils, we consistently said we wanted more time to consult with our community on these critical decisions. I am not satisfied that today’s announcement provides all the answers we need and I’m sure the people of our district will feel the same way.
“There are still questions to be resolved. For example, we sold community assets including some forestry assets to help meet the cost of our new wastewater treatment plant. Will we be compensated for this?”
He says he is concerned that there hasn’t been any clarity on how the new structure proposes to meet the requirements of the Te Awa Tupua Act. “And if our three waters are administered from another centre, how will we ensure our local voice is heard and that the entity will be responsive, and appropriate investment is made in Whanganui?
“One of the most valuable things about local government is its connection with communities and its direct accountability to the public and we still believe that the best decisions for any locality are those made locally.”
The government estimates up to $185 billion is needed to upgrade New Zealand’s water services over the next 30 years, to ensure that critical water infrastructure meets standards.
Mayor Hamish says, “I understand that the status quo is not an option, but Whanganui District Council has always been clear it wanted the best outcome for Whanganui – for our people and our environment. We have invested in our three waters infrastructure so we are well ahead of many other territorial authorities in this respect, so we will want to be appropriately compensated and to be part of all consultative processes as the reform continues.”