High-level discussions are taking place to stop councils
providing water services and pass control to a handful of
companies run on commercial lines.
A senior local government source said one option was to have
four or six water and wastewater companies for the whole of
New Zealand operating outside the normal council structure.
The model could be the Super City where a council-controlled
organisation, Watercare Services, provides water and
wastewater services to 1.5 million Aucklanders. It has led to
lower water prices and brought forward upgrades in places
such as Pukekohe and Helensville.
The reasons for having fewer water providers are understood
to include the inability of small councils to afford costly
infrastructure and the $58 million debt from the Mangawhai
sewage treatment scheme crippling the Kaipara District
The discussions are part of the Government's "Better Local
Government" reforms which include an infrastructure expert
advisory group looking at water and other issues.
Local Government Minister David Carter said the idea of
having fewer water suppliers had not been discussed with him
as part of the local government reforms, but he had heard
similar ideas from organisations such as Water New Zealand.
Water New Zealand chief executive Murray Gibb said the lobby
group supported water rationalisation and had been asked to
contribute to the Government's expert advisory group.
Local Government New Zealand declined to comment. A spokesman
said there had been a number of studies looking at the
delivery of water services over the years.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown has drafted a letter to Watercare
board chairman Ross Keenan saying the council is aware of the
industry debate on the future of water.
"Council expects that Watercare will not engage in these
governance issues as it considers these matters to be the
sole prerogative of the shareholder," the letter said.
Mr Keenan said Watercare got involved in operational matters
outside Auckland, such as helping with the Christchurch
earthquakes, but had always stayed well away from
consolidation, ownership and governance matters.
Water, he said, was an extremely sensitive issue with a great
fear of privatisation and the safe territory for Watercare
was to stay away and let others take the initiative.
Asked if the Watercare model could work elsewhere in New
Zealand, Mr Keenan said yes.
He said he had been astonished at the efficiencies and
benefits gained through consolidation under Watercare despite
- Bernard Orsman, New Zealand Herald