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Major concerns about Government Three Waters Reform

Following the Government’s announcement that it will force councils to adopt its three waters delivery model, I have had consistent feedback from Hastings residents with major concerns.

They are angry and frustrated. They want to know how they can have a say in this decision, how their voices will be heard by the new three waters organisation if the plan goes ahead, and how that organisation will be accountable to residents. They also want to know just how water assets that residents have paid for over generations can be protected from privatisation under future governments.

I share their frustration and anger. We, like other councils, entered into the Government discussions on the delivery of three waters in good faith, understanding that it was an opt in or opt our model, and that all of our questions would be answered.

This has turned out not to be the case. We have not had our questions answered and there is no longer an opt out option.

We all know that the case for change came out of the Havelock North water crisis and the Government inquiry into it. We needed to respond to make sure our drinking water was safe. After comprehensive consultation with our community, we have spent almost $80 million on achieving that.

The inquiry also said other changes needed to made; clearer and better water standards across the country, to make sure drinking water is safe and to protect and improve our environment. We wholeheartedly supported those recommendations and continue to do so.

But we do not agree with the delivery model Government is proposing, setting up four entities across New Zealand to manage all supplies.

Entity C, within which Hastings and wider Hawke’s Bay is included, will look after 21 council areas, home to one million people, covering from Gisborne to Wellington, and the top South Island and the Chatham Islands.

We have concerns about the model’s governance and management structures, accountability mechanisms, and how projects and maintenance will be prioritised.

But we are also very concerned at the figures that underpin its estimated household savings – with cost to consumers one of the Government’s main drivers of change.

It would have us believe that in Hastings alone, we need to spend $60m a year for the next 30 years on enhancing water services – adding up to $1.9b.

I have to ask, and I have: On what?

We have spent just on $80m over the last four years to upgrade all of our drinking water supplies. It is simply not credible that with 10 brand new treatment and storage drinking water facilities and a fully compliant waste water facility that our residents need to spend the amount of money they are talking about.

I strongly believe our regional model is the answer for Hawke’s Bay; a model that has been developed over the last three years with the full support of Government.

When we proposed it to Government in 2018, they not only helped fund the work but went on to reward Hawke’s Bay with $20m in 2020 in recognition that it was leading New Zealand in this space.

I and my colleague mayors are incredibly proud of the work that has been done.

Our proposed regional model follows the same principles as the Government model – pooling resources to achieve economy and efficiency - but is scaled to fit our defined region. It takes into account the state of our region’s infrastructure, our water sources and our environment, as well as our horticultural and manufacturing needs.

It would enable Hawke’s Bay residents to retain control of the assets they have already paid for, and have meaningful input into the planning and management of water services through the people they elect to Council and through community consultation on major projects, as they do now.

We must compare that with the Government model as it stands, which has layers of bureaucracy between the entity’s advisory group, the board and the managers and planners of the services. There is no obvious mechanism for community consultation.

The regional model may not achieve quite the efficiencies of scale that the Government model might do, but it will be much more efficient than the current model, and will address the concerns about governance, local ownership, planning, management and cost, that I’m hearing from our community.

We have not given up. This week I have written to the Prime Minister and, with my regional colleagues, written to the minister in charge of the reforms, Nanaia Mahuta. In those letters we have strongly set out our concerns and questions, and again asked that they reconsider the regional model.

Our councils, both individually and as a group, will be submitting to the required Government Select Committee process.

But we also need our residents to send their feedback directly to Government, through your local MP, and then through the upcoming Select Committee process.

We have started a database of people wanting to be advised on the Select Committee process, which you can join by emailing customerservice@hdc.govt.nz with ‘Water Reforms database’ in the subject line.

There is no doubt that if the Government goes ahead with this model, it will impact not only on us, but on our generations to come. We must be absolutely sure we get this right.

22 November 2021

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