Water services reform legislation passed

Published on August 30, 2023

Drips with warm light

A new water entity to deliver drinking water, stormwater and wastewater services to Manawatū-Whanganui communities might be in place before October 2025.

The final three pieces of legislation passed in Parliament in the last week will see the establishment of 10 water services entities based on regional boundaries as part of the Government three waters reform.

Whanganui District Council would become part of a Manawatū-Whanganui water services entity, along with six neighbouring territorial authorities – Palmerston North City Council and Rangitikei, Ruapehu, Manawatū, Horowhenua and Tararua district councils.

Mayor Andrew Tripe says Minister of Local Government Kieran McAnulty has shared with all mayors the National Transition Unit’s provisional timeline for the new entities to go live, beginning in July 2024 and ending in September 2025.

The Manawatū-Whanganui entity (Entity E) is expected to be in place by 1 October 2025, along with five other entities being stood up in the last half of 2025. Previously all entities were to be stood up by July 2026.

Mayor Andrew says Entity E mayors will hold a forum in early September to consider their feedback to the Minister.

“Whanganui District Council continues to oppose the government’s water services plan and loss of control of Whanganui’s water assets. There is uncertainty whether the reforms will go ahead, following the outcome of the general election in October.

“But if they happen, we want to ensure that any changes to how three waters services are delivered does not come at an extra cost to our ratepayers and want to see as many highly skilled and technical jobs retained in our great district as possible.” 

Mayor Andrew says he expects the Government to adequately resource the compressed transition timeframe by providing extra funding to councils to ensure there is a credible entity to handover to.

“Otherwise it becomes an unfunded mandate where the Government is expecting councils to pay for legislative change with no or little compensation.”

Until Entity E is established, Whanganui District Council and the six other councils would continue to provide and fund water services and carry on with their requirements for planning, reporting and rates setting.

This means three waters delivery is likely to be part of the first two years of Whanganui District Council’s Long-Term Plan 2024-2034 as all entities are expected to be in place by 1 July 2026.

Mayor Andrew says including three waters in the first two years of the Long-Term Plan 2024-2034 and preparing business cases for projects over the next 10 years will come at a cost.

“But this is the right thing to do – not only to manage uncertainty but also to leave us in a good position whatever the outcome of the election.”

Whanganui District Council chief executive David Langford says discussions have already begun between the chief executives in the proposed Manawatū-Whanganui entity.

“The Water Services Entities Amendment Act proposes a staggered approach to the entities being established. We had already indicated that Whanganui District Council may be ready to transfer in the 2024/2025 financial year, around mid to late 2025.

“We have also had regular meetings with affected staff to keep them updated and continue our no-surprises approach. We hope the proposed October 2025 timeframe will give greater certainty to our staff,” David Langford says.

Being among the last three of the entities to go live should also mean a smoother transition, he says.

“We will have the benefit of the learnings of the other entities – what worked and what could have been improved. This gives us the opportunity to have the best first-day experience for our customers and staff.”

The Department of Internal Affairs says the entities will be owned by local councils on behalf of the public but will be operationally and financially independent from them. This enables the entities to borrow more money to fund the significant long-term investment required in water services infrastructure, it says.

The Regional Establishment Groups must include at least one representative of each of the local authority owners.