Deep reservations about water reforms, council says

National reform of water services could call into question what councils are for, Dunedin city councillors have warned.

Several councillors expressed deep reservations yesterday about the Government’s planned programme, which is touted as a drive to make drinking water safer but which also imposes more responsibilities on councils while likely stripping them of assets.

Cr David Benson-Pope said residents were concerned they could face set water charges or metering as a result.

Similar developments overseas had "failed dismally to deliver what politicians promised", he said.

Cr Carmen Houlahan said residents had approached her about possible water metering.

That was one area of uncertainty among many that bothered councillors at yesterday’s council meeting.

Concerns were also aired about the speed of reform and disruption to the sector.

The Dunedin City Council approved a joint submission made with seven other Otago and Southland councils on the Government’s Water Services Bill yesterday.

The submission highlights confusion about roles and responsibilities and says the cost burden placed on councils would be substantial.

Some city councillors — including deputy mayor Christine Garey — indicated support for the broader aims of the Government’s reforms.

Cr Jim O’Malley urged the Government to avoid rushing its programme and other councillors were worried about wider implications.

Cr Chris Staynes said centralisation could leave some councils with little to do.

That could lead to rationalisation of local government, he said.

Cr Lee Vandervis said central government had pushed councils away from focusing on infrastructure and now wanted to take from them the delivery of basic services.

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins said local government was facing its most disruptive period since the 1989 reorganisation of the sector.

As well as being affected by the Government’s pursuit of water reforms, councils would need to adjust to the planned repeal of the Resource Management Act and the influence of the Climate Change Commission.

Cr Marie Laufiso was worried about effects on council staff who might need to seek new jobs. She was anxious reform could lead to "mucking around with people’s lives".

Cr O’Malley and Cr Jules Radich were uneasy about the Government using money for some projects as a way to leverage support for the Government’s approach.

Cr Sophie Barker said Dunedin had worked hard as a major city to fulfil its responsibilities as a supplier of water and other services. Some other councils had not been as devoted to meeting compliance obligations.

Cr Mike Lord said some councils would be "over the moon" about the Government stepping in.

Cr O’Malley said parts of the proposed reforms, such as alienation of assets, seemed a significant threat.

grant.miller@odt.co.nz

Comments

The issue is councillors cannot be trusted to look after the un-sexy necessities of a city and focus on $120,000 art installations at our water storage dams to celebrate Maori's bond with water rather than new pipes. Then we have a mayor who has never actually had a real job making decisions when he simply is not qualified to speak for ratepayers.

These worries from Councilors who have failed to deliver safe water??

Clearly the government is using safety as an excuse to silence criticism of their water reforms. Or is that deeply insulting to say such a thing?

Seems some councils have little to do already - that is they are not proactive when it comes to working and protecting communities and environment. Our councilors comment when we have just had four months of people monitoring but little reaction; of systems still reliant on one person's mailbox. I think too, of the Hawkes Bay e.coli saga and parallels - councils are showing they care more for internal unto them environments rather than external societal ones when problems arise.

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