It’s time for new PM to rescue water reforms – Councils
Released: Wednesday 1 February 2023
Councils representing more than a million New Zealanders are calling on the new Prime Minister to take a fresh look at a model for water reform that works.
The member councils of Communities 4 Local Democracy He hapori mō te Manapori (C4LD) said that with Prime Minister Hipkins signalling a review of the policy agenda, he has an opportunity to deliver on Government aims for three waters, in a manner that would bring communities with him.
Manawatu District Mayor and C4LD Chair Helen Worboys said that councils had been trying to work for positive reform over the past few years to no avail. But new leadership offers the Government the chance to re-engage with the sector and work together towards successful water reform.
“The detailed 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,” she said.
“They enable us build on existing partnerships and forge new relationships with Mana Whenua at a local level. They also provide for the continuation of local influence and community property rights.
“South Waikato is a member of C4LD,” says South Waikato Mayor Gary Petley. “We agree that reform is necessary but like many other councils we think there is a better way than the current proposal to achieve drinking water standards and infrastructure renewal without taking away the local voice and input of communities.
Mayor Petley continues, “This loss of local voice is of primary concern to us. Through modelling work over several years and cemented through an LTP Amendment, our Council has identified significant three water infrastructure development that is needed in our district for us to take advantage of growth opportunities. Should three waters go ahead our South Waikato voice will be lost among 21 other councils in Entity B; and it is highly likely that our infrastructure priorities required to secure a strong economic future for our people will be lost.”
Worboys continues, “We’re confident that our plans are in line with what the majority of New Zealanders want. 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 others.
“It is not too late to rescue this reform, all that needs to happen is for the Government to place some trust in Local Government.
“We should be given the opportunity to use our wealth of local knowledge to deliver better alternatives to the current proposal, which independent analysis shows has a significant number of flaws and in many areas will deliver worse outcomes than the current system.
“There is little to no public support for this plan, repeated surveys show the public is against it and most political parties voted against it, so the Government has no mandate to force it through.
“The whole sector is eager to partner and work with the Government to turn this around and find a lasting solution that we can all support.”
C4LD’s 10 point proposal for compromise - supported by all members - reads:
1. Foundation principle - community property rights in Three Waters assets are to be both respected and meaningful.
2. The Government should agree to amend its current reform process and allow time for the revised approach to be reflected in legislation.
3. With respect to investment decision-making, asset owners should actively seek to initiate authentic discussions with mana whenua at a local level that acknowledge and enable Te Tiriti based pathways at a local and regional level.
4. In return, asset owners agree to commit to meeting health and environmental standards, once known, within an appropriate time frame.
5. The regulatory framework should specify a “backstop” provision that identifies a set of circumstances which would justify future Crown intervention if an asset owner was not making acceptable progress towards meeting those regulatory requirements.
6. Progress should be reported on annually by asset owners and be benchmarked across the sector.
7. To further incentivise sector progress, a formal process might be established that requires an asset owner to prepare a plan that would map out the steps it proposes to take to meet the required standards in a financially viable and sustainable manner.
8. A process to finance and allocate funds to areas that will require financial assistance be designed that is national in application and independently administered accordingly to objective and transparent criteria.
9. This subsidy scheme will be designed to meet investment shortfalls until such time as sufficient progress has been made. At which point the scheme will cease and asset owners will finance matters on a business-as-usual approach.
10. A sector-wide sector best-practice improvement process be created and membership made compulsory. (In a similar manner used to implement successfully the One Network Road Classification Framework and now One Network Framework in the road infrastructure area, and governed by Waka Kotahi and the Local Government Sector.)
For more information on Communities 4 Local Democracy He hapori mō te Manapori (C4LD) visit https://www.communities4localdemocracy.co.nz/
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