Questions and concerns to government about Three Waters Reform
At yesterday’s Hurunui District Council meeting, Councillors unanimously approved a letter to be sent to Minister of Local Government Hon Nanaia Mahuta, to provide HDC’s feedback on the government’s proposed Three Waters Reform Programme.
The Minister has sought direct feedback from Councils on the government’s proposed Three Waters Reform Programme with the feedback being due today, 1 October. This feedback is intended to inform the government’s final decision on its proposal.
The feedback from HDC is based on its analysis of the government’s proposal and feedback from the community last month when the communities in Hurunui District expressed their views on the government’s Reform proposal. This informal feedback was sought via email, phone, through Zoom drop-in sessions or on a personal basis.
The resounding response was that the Council should reject any proposal which relinquished local control of three waters’ service delivery.
Mayor Marie Black said feedback largely leans toward the fact that the people of Hurunui District want to retain ownership and control of the three waters assets and trust us to continue to deliver the three waters services effectively on their behalf.
The letter to Hon Minister Nanaia Mahuta outlines the importance HDC holds with working directly and closely with its communities to help better understand the Reform. It states the proposed governance model for the new water entities is not fit for purpose, as it has the effect of distancing the accountability of the entities from their customers.
“This would be a significant backward step from the current situation. Delivery of the three waters is a service, it is not an exercise in asset management or accounting,” said Mayor Black.
She added that Council has struggled to understand the government’s expressed view that Councils will continue to own the three waters assets, and it is of the view that if HDC has no direct control of the assets, it can no longer be considered to be the owner of the assets.
“Naturally, Council does not concur that it can continue to own the assets if the control and balance sheet reflect otherwise.”
The letter points out that there are several assumptions of the Water and Infrastructure Commission of Scotland (WICS) modelling for this District including overstated costs and the poor fit of the model with the reality of Hurunui’s drinking water schemes, particularly considering the significant amount of stock water our service provides. The letter requests further clarification from the regulators Taumata Awowai and Regional Councils before future pricing of three waters is decided on.
“It is difficult to understand the value of the proposed economic regulator until the new standards are practically in place,” said Mayor Black.
Mixed messages from DIA officials with respect to the definition of stormwater were also mentioned in the letter, as well as concerns about the public advertising campaign which was described as ‘condescending and light on facts.’
“The monies invested in the advertising campaign would have been much better spent if officials had publicly explained their proposals, rather than rely on public relations spin.”
The letter summarised with a closing line that ‘the Three Waters Reform proposals are currently not well designed, too light on detail regarding the impact of the future regulatory environment, do not provide a governance structure that truly allows for direct customer input and are based for, our district at least, on financial modelling which does not reflect the reality on the ground.’
“The proposal needs to clearly define the scope of the three waters reform. It is currently not clear, and the advice about what is in or out is often given on the fly, contradicting previous statements,” said Mayor Black.
Mayor Black said it was clear that the community wished to be fully consulted if any three waters assets were to move to the proposed structure. In order to ensure community consultation occurs on any reform of the three waters assets in the Hurunui District, the Council unanimously resolved to utilise the special consultative procedure in the Local Government Act to consult with all residents and ratepayers in the Hurunui District have the opportunity to make their voices heard if the government decides to implement its Three Waters Reform Programme proposal.