Three Waters Reform Update – Monday 1 November 2021
Released - Monday 1 November 2021
For more on Three Waters Reform - visit our Major Project page here.
“While South Waikato District Council is disappointed at the Government’s announcement to mandate the three waters reform, we’re not surprised,” said Mayor Jenny Shattock. “However, we still have the same issues that we outlined in our submission and previous statements and our fears haven’t been allayed.
“Importantly, we are deeply concerned that there is no opportunity for wider community input going forward.
“As the leader of this Council, I want to say that we entered this process in good faith because it was very clearly an opt-in/opt-out choice,” continued Mayor Jenny. “Making it mandatory now is a bitter pill to swallow and does nothing to foster a relationship of trust.
“Having said that, we are pleased that while the Government has announced that participation in the three waters reform will be mandatory, it has also indicated that it is committed to working with the sector to refine its model in response to local government feedback through the submission process.”
The local government sector – including South Waikato - has spoken out loud and clear that the proposed model needs significant work.
“We will continue to work hard and advocate for our community to ensure we get the best possible solution out of this decision that we can,” continued Mayor Shattock. “We need to achieve the best financial position for our district, while we optimise future service delivery for our community and provide security for our staff.
“Input into the future for local government has never been more important,” she said. “Government has signalled that it is committed to working with the local government sector to refine its model in response to sector feedback. I look forward to working together to find solutions that work for communities and that addresses the concerns of all councils and Government. It is critical that the solution delivers an efficient and cost-effective service that is safe and sustainable for communities and the environment.”
“I want to reiterate SWDC’s main concerns with the reform proposal, none of which have been allayed, answered or clarified.”
- Haste of the reform.
- The loss of local voice.
- Disjointed approach by central Government to implementing inter-related reforms including Resource Management reform and the Future of Local Government reform.
- Information in the public arena is inconsistent, poorly understood and inaccurate.
- Lack of effective representation for all communities.
- Lack of planning integration.
- Impact on workforce, delivery and capability.
- Lack of equity from the proposed financial support proposed for our council.
- No opportunity of meaningful engagement and/or feedback from the community.
- Risks around rural water schemes (estimated around 500 in the South Waikato) that will become the responsibility of Council’s should they fail.
“Given the data to date and the proposal, SWDC has completed its due diligence. Our conclusion is still that under the current proposal our Council will be significantly ‘worse-off’ from the deal offered by central government relative to other councils. The Government’s ‘no worse-off’ component will not adequately compensate for the much lesser deal that SWDC will get compared to other councils,” continued Mayor Jenny. “Quite simply, the offering is not good enough for the people of the South Waikato.”
The question of ownership is extremely confusing. From what Minister Mahuta has said in recent days, councils will retain ownership of the three waters assets. But that they will be managed, controlled and governed by the four entities.
“How can Council own the assets and have no ownership rights?” questions Mayor Shattock. “That simply makes no sense.”
We welcome the introduction of a working group to specifically work through governance, representation and accountability. These issues sit at the heart of the sector’s concerns about ownership and control of water assets, and they must be resolved.
“While this announcement stings for councils that, like our own, have been good stewards of their infrastructure, ultimately the challenges facing the three waters do need addressing. This may well be correctly achieved at a national level, however the proposed solution needs significant work to deliver service that our community expects, has paid for and deserves,” said Mayor Shattock.
Our people and their job security are important – and this decision gives them certainty on the path forwards. It’s been a really unsettling time for them. The sector is under a lot of pressure and this is challenging.
The analysis of the sector’s feedback is a valuable read. It shows the sector has serious concerns about the proposal, many of which are consistent with SWDC’s view. It is available on our website here. It is a rich resource of ideas and analysis that central Government must use as it continues to make the needed improvements to its proposed model.
“This process has been painful and difficult for all of us – staff, Elected Members, community,” said Mayor Shattock. “It has created conflict and division between central and local Government that was both unnecessary and damaging.”
Addressing some specific questions on SWDC three waters:
- Drinking water
- SWDC has compliant water schemes today, but we don’t know what changes will occur with compliance standards in the future under the new water regulator, Tamata Arowai.
- SWDC has new 35-year resource consents for wastewater discharge for all four of its wastewater treatment plants.
- We have also invested appropriately in a 30-year capital upgrade plan to ensure we achieve the discharge improvements required to get these consents. Every five years, these consent conditions are reviewed and there is concern that compliance requirements will change over time, which will come with unknown and potentially significant capital costs. Changing standards and unknown costs going forward is a significant concern and could turn our assets into liabilities.
- The move to new entities will mean less local input into consent conditions for our community and iwi.
- While SWDC has invested well in water and wastewater, we have invested less in stormwater.
- Our stormwater consent renewals are due in the next three to five years. This is a huge unknown compliance risk for Council and community. While we have committed almost $4 million over the next ten years into stormwater improvements across the district, the changes in this space are unknown.
- South Waikato rivers
- There are targets for the improvement of the Waikato River that is set out in legislation. This has been a huge focus for the Waikato Regional Council and readers will likely be familiar with the terms Healthy Rivers and Freshwater legislation.
- Our own Waihou will follow with plan changes in that area once regional decisions have been made. While there is room for improvement, there are multiple contributors to quality issues with our awa, such as natural run-off, farming and business nutrient run-off and Council’s own wastewater and water operations. Our wastewater plants is are only a small portion of the total nutrient outflow into the sea.
- Working with the New Water Entity to prepare for the future
- Council will continue to deliver three waters at the current level of service to its community until 1 July 2024.
- During this time, Council will work with the sector-wide working party and technical party to plan towards 1 July 2024 when the new entity takes over. The new water entities are unlikely to have time to create new plans in the early years of the new entity’s existence, so Council’s continued planning is imperative to ensure service delivery and future enhancement for growth are improved for our community expect.
- Opting out of the Three Waters Reforms
- This is now a moot point; we can’t anymore.
- New legislation will be enacted to move three waters to the new entities.
- The details of ownership and ownership rights as we have mentioned is currently very unclear.
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