· Local councils ownership of water entities confirmed and new shareholding structure put in place
· Local community and council voice further strengthened in Regional Representative Groups with the majority ofrecommendations accepted
· Co-governance on the board of the four water entities ruled out by Local Government Minister with board membership to be based on skill
· Equal representation of mana whenua and councils on Regional Representative Groups confirmed
· New model to save ratepayers thousands of dollars a year and delivers better water quality and safety
The Government has confirmed local council ownership and strengthened local voice by accepting the vast majority of the Three Waters Working Group recommendations on representation, governance and accountability, Infrastructure Minister Grant Robertson and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced today.
“Fundamentally these reforms are about delivering clean and safe drinking water at an affordable price for New Zealanders. Without reform, households are facing water costs of up to $9000 per year, or the prospect of services that fail to meet their needs,” Robertson said in a joint media statement with Mahuta this morning.
“Everyone accepts the need for change. You only have to look at the number of burst pipes, boil water notices and the volume of sewerage spewing into our harbours to see we can’t carry on as we are and that our water infrastructure is crumbling.
“At the heart of councils’ concerns have been the issues of ownership and voice. By accepting the majority of the recommendations made by the independent Working Group on Representation, including a shareholding plan, we have listened to these concerns and modified our proposals accordingly.
“With the key issues now addressed we cannot afford to wait any longer. The costs to communities and ratepayers are just too big to ignore and we need to get on with fixing it.”
Mahuta said the Working Group was tasked with addressing the issues of most concern to the sector and Cabinet has agreed to the majority of their recommendations that ensure councils, iwi and communities have a strong voice in the new entities.
“I acknowledge the anxiety around change but ratepayers and local communities cannot keep paying more and more for services that have been under-invested in for too long and now put their health at risk.
“That’s why the Government has extensively engaged with local government, iwi and hapū, the water industry for more than four years to understand the case for change and assess the best option for reform.
“This is the best option to deliver the clean, safe and affordable drinking water New Zealanders deserve while also retaining community ownership and protecting against future privatisation.
“We are now at a point where the case for change is well made and the policy has been robustly tested and improved. We have listened to concerns and now is time to move forward with these reforms.”
The ministers said, in line with the Working Group’s recommendations, the Government will:
• provide for a public shareholding structure that makes community ownership clear, with shares allocated to councils reflective of the size of their communities (one share per 50,000 people);
• further strengthen and clarify the role of the Regional Representative Group; with joint oversight from local councils and mana whenua to ensure community voice and provide tighter accountability from each water services entity board;
• maintain that board members are to be appointed based on skills and competency;
• strengthen connections to smaller communities including through local sub-committees feeding into the Regional Representative Group, to ensure all communities’ voices are considered as part of investment prioritisation; and
• recognise and embrace Te Mana o te Wai – the health and wellbeing of our waterways and waterbodies – as a korowai, or principle, that applies across the water services framework.
“The governance arrangement in the Regional Representative Group is not something that is new. Many councils already have co-governance arrangements in place, and acknowledge the importance and benefit of such arrangements,” Mahuta said.
“For example the Waikato River Authority set up by the previous Government, established fifty-fifty co-governance around the Waikato River and is a good working model of shared decision making to improve the health of the river.
“The Regional Representative Group is not about ownership but rather ensuring community inclusion and voices are heard, securing a kaitiaki or guardianship role for the protection of our environment and maintaining the focus on the long-term planning required for national infrastructure. It’s a model that makes sense and is already working well.
“Without the changes we are making all the evidence points to a legacy of broken pipes, outdated sewage plants, and potential repeats of the tragic Havelock North gastroenteritis outbreak that killed four people and made thousands sick. This should not be the case in a first-world country.”
MAYOR: More changes needed to improve three waters reform proposal
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has welcomed changes to the government’s proposed three waters reform but says the model still doesn’t stack up for Aucklanders.
This morning the government announced that it will incorporate almost all the 47 recommendations made by the Working Group on Representation, Governance and Accountability.
The Working Group, comprised of representatives from local government and iwi, was convened to consider feedback and make recommendations about the governance, representation, and accountability arrangements in the government’s reform proposals.
Goff, who sat on the Working Group and issued a minority report outlining an alternative view to the wider membership, said, “We welcome the government’s decision to adopt most of the Working Group’s recommendations, however, even with the changes, the proposed structure does not reflect the unique position of Auckland, which has already amalgamated.
“Auckland contributes 93 per cent of the assets and 90 per cent of the population served by the proposed new water entity. However, Aucklanders, through their elected representatives, will only have a minority position in the governance of this entity,” said Goff.
“Aucklanders have overwhelmingly told us through consultation feedback, surveys and polling that they want control over water services to remain with them through their elected representatives.
“We acknowledge that many Councils have been unable or unwilling to invest sufficiently in water infrastructure, leading to poor outcomes, however this is not the case in Auckland.
“Auckland has invested strongly in water infrastructure, allocating a record $11 billion in its latest 10-year Budget. We meter water usage, have strong drinking water standards, and have achieved one of the lowest levels per capita water consumption in New Zealand.
“Despite this, under the proposed reform model, Auckland is penalised by losing control and accountability over our services because of the shortcomings of some other local authorities.
“Aucklanders should retain control over the governance of their own assets through their elected representatives.”