Public to have say about future of city's water

Tony AveryA 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 privatise water.

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 a recommendation.

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 profit.

Putting money where the mouth is.

It is unlikely that this proposed CCO will make the savings claimed and I, for one, am sick of ill-founded proposals from small but influential groups  (ie council staff/ CST) who claim wondrous outcomes but take no responsibility whatever for 'unanticipated' losses down the road. It seems to me that those who make such claims should be penalised if their claims end up not benefitting, but costing ratepayers. If they can't accept that responsibility, then their proposals should be ignored. It's our health, indeed our future they are playing with.

By the way, taking water out of public control is a breach of human rights. 

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