Wellington Scoop

Daran Ponter and Anita Baker welcome decision on “3 waters” reforms

News from GWRC and PCC
The chair of the Regional Council and the Mayor of Porirua have today welcomed the Government decision on an “all in” approach to 3 Waters reforms as a positive step towards improved and consistent delivery of water services across New Zealand.

Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta announced this morning that the Government will create four publicly owned water entities to ensure every New Zealander has access to affordable, long-lasting drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure without ballooning costs to households and families. A working group will be established with the local government sector, iwi and water industry experts to work through issues raised by councils about representation and accountability.

Regional Council Chair Daran Ponter said that today’s decision was the right one.

“This is a bold step, but precisely what is required to address chronic under-investment and looming requirements across the sector. The mandatory all-in approach will provide greater certainty to New Zealanders about the delivery of drinking water, the management of storm water and enables the sector to better meet increasingly stringent requirements around the discharge of sewage,” he said.

“It is good to see that the Government has listened to Councils and is forming a reference group to work through outstanding issues related to accountability and representation”

Porirua Mayor Anita Baker also supported the move.

“I am pleased the Government has stepped up and made this decision as we owe residents and ratepayers the truth – and the truth is, without reform, the Council does not have the resources or borrowing capacity to deliver the 3 Waters to an acceptable standard. The cost of doing so is in the billions.

“Porirua City has already put aside $800 million over the next 30 years – and that’s not even half of what’s needed. How can we expect 19,000 ratepayers to foot a bill of that magnitude?” she said.

“We will take every opportunity as a Council to get the best deal we can for Porirua. We will push for improvements to the proposal before it’s enacted, including through stronger democratic mechanisms.”

The Government launched the 3 Waters reform programme in July 2020, to look at how best to deliver to regulate and deliver the three waters – drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services – across New Zealand. Today’s decision follows feedback from councils on the Government’s initial proposal and data.

In her announcement Minister Mahuta said it was a bottom line for the government that the entities remain in public ownership.

“We will continue to work with councils and ensure that local participation is evident in the critical next phase.

“As we look to next steps, I will be introducing legislation to progress the establishment of the entities. The Select Committee process will provide an opportunity to get public feedback on the reforms”.

The DomPost quotes Lower Hutt Mayor Campbell Barry as saying the city would face significant challenges to support population growth and, without this reform, the pressure would be on ratepayers to foot the bill. It quotes Wellington mayor Andy Foster as being concerned at the lack of consultation on the reform. Wellington has had its share of burst pipes and sewage leaks: “We have significant investment to make, and we were on the trajectory to do that. We completely agree with the need for change, but there are significant aspects of the proposal we didn’t agree with.”

Phil Goff: Few benefits for Aucklanders

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  1. Jill Day, 27. October 2021, 11:37

    These reforms are desperately needed and in reality bold decision making was necessary. Ngā mihi ki a koe Nanaia! [via twitter]

  2. Fleur Fitzsimons, 27. October 2021, 11:38

    Excellent decision – local government does not have a good record here, the case for reform is urgent and necessary! [via twitter]

  3. Joolzz, 27. October 2021, 12:13

    Having lived through the reforms of the 80s and 90s, when we sold off our precious power utilities, what safeguards are in place to ensure our water is not privatised by a future right-wing/neoliberal government?

  4. TrevorH, 27. October 2021, 13:25

    This is a terrible decision for democracy in New Zealand. Participation was supposed to be voluntary and many Councils have expressed their strong opposition to the proposal.

  5. michael, 27. October 2021, 14:45

    With the government taking over 3 waters and planning, won’t be much left for councils to do but tick boxes for the government, so hopefully that will result in huge savings for ratepayers.

  6. Kara, 27. October 2021, 18:30

    If Joolzz is referring to the sale of MED, that was done by the city council.

  7. Bsmith, 27. October 2021, 20:01

    I sincerely hope local voters take note of which councillors think that stealing ratepayers’ assets is a good idea, come election time.

  8. Ray Chung, 27. October 2021, 21:21

    I consider this to be an autocratic decision to take steal local council assets when 62 councils out of 67 didn’t want it! Mark my words, it’ll come back to bite the government and councillors who believe in state appropriation.

  9. D'Esterre, 27. October 2021, 23:02

    Kara, it doesn’t matter who sold MED: the point is that it was sold. I too lived through the reforms of the 80s and 90s: they have not served us well in respect of local government.

    TrevorH is correct: participation in this scheme was supposed to be voluntary. Now, apparently because most Councils are opposed, it is to be compulsory. That’s a further erosion of democracy.

    This scheme entails the theft of assets owned by ratepayers. It’s futile for proponents to argue that the government isn’t taking ownership: taking control away from the owners is tantamount to theft.

    Michael: huge savings for ratepayers? Ha! Good luck with that….

  10. K, 28. October 2021, 4:50

    I think this is the necessary outcome. Vast majority of Local councils have proved inept in planning for renewal of 3 waters infrastructure (or simply lacked the moral fortitude to plan to pay for it due to ratepayers balking at the required rates increases), and now the costs have come due. Local councils had their chance and blew it, pushing the costs onto younger generations (a now familiar story).

  11. JAB, 28. October 2021, 12:24

    Councils may need money and technical assistance, but this big power grab with layers of impenetrable governance just enables a government even further to the right to privatise water easily down the track.
    Even in Wellington, renewal is financially possible but it would mean forgoing useless convention centres, barely used cycleways, paving Lambton Quay and endless intensification with the extra costs from this.

  12. Ray Chung, 28. October 2021, 14:19

    I think that if the managing body was selected from competent, qualified individuals, I’d have more faith in it. With the board comprising 50% from iwi, it seems to me that we’ll have unqualified political members.

  13. hel, 28. October 2021, 16:42

    Absolutely cumbersome governance arrangements that will ensure that there is no accountability. The issues with the water infrastructure will only be solved by increased investment, but apart from the relatively small bribes coming from Government there is no new money being introduced, so it will come from user charges. The illusory economies of scale, how many times has that been rolled out to justify an investment case. If we have a quick stocktake of infrastructure that the Government is responsible for, we’d note the state of our schools and roads – both suffering from lack of investment by the crown. The compulsory three waters grab has risk, tears and other motivations written all over it.

  14. D'Esterre, 28. October 2021, 22:31

    Regardless of how ineffectual Councils have been with regard to water infrastructure, it doesn’t at all follow that the government ought to, in effect, expropriate citizens’ property. We own those assets: we paid for them in our rates. Moreover, it isn’t our fault that Councils have failed to manage them properly. Yet it seems that we’re being punished for it.

  15. bsmith, 30. October 2021, 7:31

    Would anybody like to wager that the eventual makeup of the managing boards of these 3 waters conglomerates will throw up the same old faces/names that are linked to government/council/iwi management groups now ? Anybody ?

  16. M, 30. October 2021, 9:34

    Ironic. The government could apply the same process and reasons to council housing … after all this is a bigger cost to the council and costing the tenants in rent and health where there has being a lack of investment. And easier to do as the government already have a department.

  17. M, 30. October 2021, 9:58

    Anita. Is that 19000 based on current ratepayers or the growth as expected by the draft plan?

  18. Cr Daran Ponter, 30. October 2021, 21:05

    bsmith: The Councils, Iwi (and possibly the Minister) will appoint an independent board for the four entities (much like Wellington Water). The boards won’t have current councillors on them, and the same would probably have to hold true for iwi representatives. To get an idea of the type of people, look to the Board of Wellington Water or Auckland Watercare.

  19. Hel, 31. October 2021, 14:05

    Daran, looking at the performance of Wellington Water hardly inspires confidence. In fact it is a great example of a largely unaccountable entity, delivering poor service levels. If there was a great reason for opposing water reforms it would be that they might deliver entities like Wellington Water. Hasn’t the chair of Wellington Water walked away? They are part of the problem not the solution.

  20. Cr Daran Ponter, 31. October 2021, 15:32

    Hel: Wellington Water is providing the service that the six Councils buy from them – so if there is poor service delivery then some of that goes straight back to your local Council and the level of investment they have been willing to make over many years.

  21. bssmith, 1. November 2021, 12:58

    Daran Ponter: First off, they surely won’t be independent, they will be put there to perform as certain entities see fit. I wonder how many senior councilors/mayors who loose their seats at council in the next election, will pop up …. I could think of 1 or 2.
    Hel: if local body councilors had used the moneys levied on rates for water services over the last 20 plus years, instead of syphoning it off into dubious/white elephants/monuments to themselves, then the ratepayers would not be in this situation. For said councilors to now talk up 3 waters as the saviour to this mess, is disingenuous.

  22. Cr Daran Ponter, 2. November 2021, 18:47

    bssmith: Directors are more likely to be independent under the proposed model because the number of councils and iwi involved in the selection process will be much larger and the drive will be to competency, backstopped with legislation. There may be the odd former Councillor and former local authority executive that “pops-up,” but this would have to be on ability rather than graft!

    Not sure your last comments are an entirely appropriate reflection of the circumstances. For example, if you live in Porirua, Wellington, Hutt Valley urban areas then your drinking water is sourced from aquifers and reservoirs which you own as ratepayers via the Regional Council. This infrastructure is in very good condition – we take the income that comes from providing the water to your local councils (which they then send to your tap) and that income goes back into maintaining and growing the assets. There is no siphoning off for vanity projects.

    And despite this, the Regional Council unanimously stands with those Councils who agree with the need for reform. Too many Councils have mismanaged the long-term management of water assets, and are poorly prepared for new environment requirements and population increase. We need a new model to take us forward.

  23. TrevorH, 2. November 2021, 19:41

    Cr Ponter: this proposal involves the confiscation of community-owned assets, the installation of race-based governance and the removal of accountability and democracy. It is indefensible.

  24. Cr Daran Ponter, 2. November 2021, 21:10

    TrevorH: I am defending the need for change. My god, people on this site have absolutely lambasted their councils for poor performance in managing their three waters assets … that simply cannot carry on. I for one will be happy to see the Crown’s Treaty partner at the governance table.

  25. TrevorH, 2. November 2021, 22:17

    Cr Ponter: this “change” was initially said to be voluntary for Councils, not all of whom have been as feckless or irresponsible in managing their assets as Wellington. Now the Minister says it will be forced on them in the light of strong opposition by communities. That is dictatorship.

  26. Cr Daran Ponter, 3. November 2021, 12:24

    TrevorH: if the Government made a mis-step, it was to signal a voluntary opt-in in the first place. How was that ever going to work? It was simply going to kick the can down the road for another thirty years. What is on the table is a NZ Inc solution – sure it needs more refinement. That’s the challenge that we have to deal with over the coming months.

  27. JAB, 3. November 2021, 13:45

    Cr Ponter: Why this particular change though? Ratepayers are correct to criticise poor performance by the Wellington Council, but lack the structure to enforce spending on this basic need. There has been plenty of criticism of the Conference Centre build, cycleways for a few thousand private users, central government trying to stuff thousands of extra people in without consultation … We are now also expected to fund some grandiose plans for transport far beyond the population that exists or is likely to exist.
    We can afford the pipes if we focus on them and don’t get lumped with idiot ideas from central government. Maybe we need to spend and budget at a suburban level.

  28. Keith Flinders, 4. November 2021, 9:24

    Daran: Repeating the mistakes made in the past achieves only more expensive issues to solve future. You may think that the Three Waters idea will solve the current water and sewage problems Wellington has, but it is unlikely that it will, other than perhaps having more money from central government pockets available.

    For over 150 years Wellington had a City Works Department staffed by those who knew everything about the operation, maintenance, and eventual replacement of vital infrastructure. Thirty years ago we saw inexperienced councillors make decisions about engineering aspects based purely on how much they cost, rather than the value of having and maintaining them. So the rot set in, the Works Department was run down and eventually closed. As then Cr Paul Eagle commented “500 years of combined knowledge and experience was sent down the road with the closure of the works department with redundant staff being given only a feed of KFC.”

    So now we have Wellington Water who have openly admitted that they have not a full knowledge of what it is that they are meant to be looking after. This after the expenditure of millions on flash cars, utes, mobile phones, laptops, swanky offices. The Three Waters concept will only produce more of the same, and with at least 9,000 extra staff. Bigger does not mean better. Any local politician who agrees to this intended asset stripping of ratepayer assets will not be getting my vote.

  29. Cr Daran Ponter, 4. November 2021, 11:03

    JAB and Keith Flinders: This is the change that the government has arrived at after considering a range of options. They are seeing issues from a NZ Inc perspective, whereas we will often see issues at a local, district or regional perspective. I acknowledge the tensions that this causes. The assets will still be public assets, but held on the ledger of a new public entity.

  30. JAB, 5. November 2021, 8:35

    Daran. NZ Inc?? Why should we not see this issue from a regional/local perspective rather than an un-consulted “top down” solution? Or are you confirming that Labour has a project in the back room to pretty much gut any form of local democracy by issuing all these top down edicts.

  31. D'Esterre, 9. November 2021, 15:35

    Cr. Ponter: “I for one will be happy to see the Crown’s Treaty partner at the governance table.” Please. Do not appeal to the Treaty as justification for what TrevorH correctly identifies as the theft of community-owned assets. This is undemocratic: it cannot be glossed in any other way. The Treaty contains no principles, no mention of partnership: that wasn’t its purpose. The so-called “principles” were a post facto attempt to freight meanings on to the Treaty that went far beyond what the text can bear, or the signatories could have imagined or intended.

    Keith Flinders has pointed out that the WCC used to have a City Works Department. It did the job for Wellington that the 3 Waters entity will utterly fail to do. And we the ratepayers will still pay, but through our taxes, while at the same time losing any democratic control over those assets. The local government reforms of the late 1980s, one result of which was the disestablishment of the CWD, have served all of us very poorly. This is just another example. I’m with Keith Flinders: any local politician agreeing to this white-anting of local democracy won’t be getting my vote.

  32. Cr Daran Ponter, 9. November 2021, 20:59

    D’Esterre – The assets remain in public ownership and the water entities are publicly owned.

    No, you won’t pay for the significant upgrades required in Wellington City through your taxes. The new water entity will instead send you a bill for your water services. The same bill you get now from the WCC.

  33. Ray Chung, 9. November 2021, 21:04

    Cr. Ponter: it seems to me that any asset where the nominal owner has no control or management ceases to become an asset. This is purely a political seizure of assets by the government and you and all the councillors who voted for it are complicit.

  34. aom, 9. November 2021, 22:59

    Ray, you have posed a real head scratcher. Surely the current nominal owners are the respective Councils. Nominally, the successive owner will be a Government agency. In essence the ‘asset’ was paid for by the regional citizens who will still be the beneficiaries of the asset and will hopefully will get a better deal than provided by those who have presided over the current dilapidated mess, especially in Wellington City. Now who is stealing what from whom?

  35. D'Esterre, 9. November 2021, 23:36

    Cr. Ponter: The assets are community-owned, yet we lose control of them. That’s theft by government from the community. And of course we will pay, including for the work required in Wellington. Has not the government promised a large amount of money as a sweetener to local authorities, to persuade the reluctant to accept this deal? What is that, if not taxpayer money?

  36. Keith Flinders, 10. November 2021, 9:41

    aom: I consider the ratepayers to be the owners of infrastructure we funded, we paid to have maintained, and we funded replacement of over the past 100 plus years. Money for these aspects being raised from rates we are obliged to pay.

    If for a moment I thought that the Three Waters legislation was to see an improvement in the maintenance of the infrastructure, then I could be convinced to go along with it. What it will only do is lengthen the chain of command from those mega dollar a year chair-warmer managers, who think everything can be fixed using a computer keyboard, down to those on the front line holding together plant that has not received adequate maintenance for decades. Whatever funds Three Waters get will have to be allocated over the entire country and may not be sufficient for all localities with needs.

    We have seen how Wellington Water have failed the ratepayers. Three Waters will compound the same issue. We need local control of vital services with legislation in place so that councils are required to spend the money collected for a particular stated purpose on that service, not spend it on frivolities such as convention centres and feel-good projects. A lack of understanding of the need for plant maintenance by city and town councillors has got us into a mess, so it’s time to put this right locally using experienced people.

  37. D'Esterre, 10. November 2021, 10:03

    aom, defending the indefensible, I see. This is theft by the government. All Councils in NZ will similarly lose control of their community-owned assets, regardless of how well those assets have been managed. The WCC has done a very poor job, but it by no means follows that the government ought to take from us what we’ve paid for. The best solution for WCC would be the re-establishment of the much-missed City Works Department.

  38. JAB, 10. November 2021, 13:53

    It’s just a means to slug city ratepayers for infrastructure costs rather than those who actually benefited. Like dairy farmers and other business owners who should be paying higher taxes.

  39. Casey, 10. November 2021, 14:20

    JAB: We are already paying this in our rates, and if a tenant then in the rent. This will continue if the Three Waters comes to pass, but at even higher costs to cover the bloated structure and inefficiencies that will emerge. Three Waters isn’t a freebie from Central Government, anything but.