A binding public
referendum has been proposed as a safety mechanism to allay
public concerns over feared privatisation of Dunedin's water.
The suggestion came during the Dunedin City Council's 2011-12
pre-draft annual plan deliberations yesterday, as councillors
debated a proposed council-controlled organisation (CCO) to
manage the city's $1.6 billion in water assets.
Council city environment general manager Tony Avery told
councillors rules could be attached to the CCO to safeguard
the water assets.
That could include one requiring a public referendum to
approve any sale of water assets, and another requiring a
unanimous vote of support from councillors for any move to
Both rules could be written into the CCO's constitution,
helping safeguard the assets by restricting the council's
ability to sell them at a future date, and give "a degree of
public assurance", he said.
The idea came as yesterday's morning session was dominated by
intense questioning and sometimes heated debate over the
proposed water CCO.
The session lasted nearly four hours, until shortly before
1pm, as councillors grilled staff over a host of concerns,
including fears the proposal could pave the way for a
possible future sale to private interests.
Others argued the council was pre-empting public consultation
by settling on a CCO as a preferred option for future
delivery of water services.
At one point, with Crs Richard Thomson and Andrew Noone at
loggerheads over how to proceed, a five-minute adjournment
was called to allow the pair to deliberate on the wording of
When the dust eventually settled, councillors voted to
consult the public on the proposed water CCO, although with
an "open mind" about alternative options and keeping the
business unit in-house remaining the fall-back position.
However, some councillors remained opposed, with a block of
four - Crs Fliss Butcher, Jinty MacTavish, Teresa Stevenson
and Kate Wilson - trying unsuccessfully to block the CCO
proposal from proceeding.
Among their concerns were fears a change in direction by a
future government - supported by a future council - could see
the rules relaxed, and the city's "lifeblood" sold for