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Mayors representing more than a million people took their concerns about planned reforms to Parliament yesterday and 23 councils — including Christchurch city and Waimate district — have signed up to a group called Communities 4 Local Democracy, which has raised objections to the proposal to strip control of some assets from councils.
Three district councils — Whangarei, Timaru and Waimakariri — are also pursuing action in the High Court.
The broader campaign questions the Government’s drive to create four regional water services entities, and it calls for local influence in decision-making to be retained.
No council in Otago or Southland has signed up, so far, and Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins said the rules of the group would require Dunedin residents to help fund "futile" legal action.
"As a city council, we would have to chip in more than most, but still only have one vote within the group," Mr Hawkins said.
"We would effectively be asked to surrender our advocacy strategy to a group of smaller councils, and pay more than them for the privilege."
Mr Hawkins said he found it hard to take the group’s support for a more meaningful role for mana whenua seriously.
Group chairwoman and Manawatu Mayor Helen Worboys said the campaign was constructive and no-one disputed greater investment was needed in drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services.
However, the Government needed to rethink its approach.
"We are the elected local voice of our communities — communities that are very clearly telling us that they don’t want control of the assets that generations of our ratepayers built up and paid for being snatched away from them as part of the Government’s plan," Mrs Worboys said.
"We don’t believe that the best solution lies in putting our assets into what will be four of the largest companies in New Zealand — and then denying our communities their say in how those companies are run."
Mrs Worboys said the group wanted to work in partnership with the Government.
The High Court action is aimed at clarifying the meaning of ownership, given the Government has argued councils would continue to "own" Three Waters assets.
Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan, who is part of a water entities working group, said he was trying to influence reforms from "inside the tent".
The Government was acutely aware the reforms were unpopular, he said.
"I’m not sure telling them that is going to make an iota of difference."
Waimate Mayor Craig Rowley, who was in Wellington yesterday, said the delegation met representatives from political parties, including Labour.
Ratepayers in his district had been clear they did not support the Government’s approach, he said.
The Government’s model left little room for small councils to influence future developments and infrastructure spending, he said.
Dunedin city councillors were united in their opposition to the Government forcing councils to be part of the reforms, but they have been divided over other aspects.
Mr Hawkins, who has been on the losing side of some votes, said his council’s view was the reform programme should be reset.
"Lest those calls go unheeded, I continue to work through any channels available to help influence the various government reform programmes."