Three Waters plan leaking?

Opposition to the Government’s ambitious Three Waters plan is substantial, and for good reasons.

The drinking water, wastewater and stormwater roles of district and city councils would be shifted to four regional entities. One covers the Ngai Tahu territory, the South Island except for much of Nelson and Marlborough.

Councils would have the ability to opt out. Many are indicating that desire.

Concerns have grown as councils endeavour to examine the detail.

The Government, though, might well have to make the takeover compulsory to maintain its course.

Everyone agrees there are problems with Three Waters. These were highlighted by the fatal water supply contamination in Havelock North in 2016 as well as the likes of sewage spilling into Wellington Harbour from burst pipes and the Waikouaiti lead contamination.

Puerile advertisements stereotyped and grossly simplified the woes.

It’s absolutely no wonder the many councils doing a good job were incensed.

Predictions were that bills would increase massively with no change. And that savings from the new structure would be huge.

The numbers were so large they seemed unbelievable. Now, it seems the figures used are as full of holes as some of those Wellington pipes.

Faults are being found all over the place with the information on which the analysis is based.

How much of the grand plan is built on sand? It is not good enough to maintain the principles when the information on which they are based is incorrect.

Nevertheless, the crux of the matter is about money, the tens of billions of dollars all agree will be needed for drinking water, stormwater and sewage systems.

The new structures will, it is claimed, supply the technical expertise, economies of scale and borrowing capacity to tackle the backlog and maintain and improve the Three Waters.

One assumes, however, that the expensive slog of digging up streets and replacing pipes will still be carried out by contractors.

No significant savings there. Likewise, with the creation of layers of management and administrators on big salaries.

Smaller councils struggle with expertise. Councils could share resources more. This, plus associated cost savings, has worked well in the Waikato.

The stingy commitment of resources to Three Waters by some councils is a serious problem. Wellington stands out.

Should it be up to other communities, central public money and huge debts held by the new entities to bail them out?

There are, indeed, wider funding issues because of limited sources of income for councils and their constrained ability to borrow.

That is the matter to be tackled, surely, rather than surging ahead by taking away local responsibilities and involvement.

Should, for a start, the state pay rates on its huge land holdings?

Should new income streams accompany all the extra requirements central Government has placed on councils?

Local councils are accountable to voters when problems arise, unlike distant new entities.

Three Waters are tied to traditional council basics: the roads, the rubbish and water, sewage and stormwater. These are what rates conventionally pay for.

Do councils need those other funding sources — as they have long argued — for other roles, releasing money for their core jobs?

There appears to be an inevitability to the Government’s determination to enact change no matter what.

However, despite its best attempt to sweeten councils to go along with its scheme, it is meeting growing doubts and opposition.

The reforms, as Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins said in an opinion article in yesterday’s Otago Daily Times, would reshape the purpose of councils.

Yet, against a background where so much is unknown and uncertain about the plan, submissions from councils are to close at the end of the month.

Mr Hawkins and other Otago and Southland mayors have asked the Government to slow down the process and allow time for meaningful public engagement.

This is the very least that should happen.

Comments

"The Government may have to make the takeover compulsory to maintain its course"
Surely this comment in itself should make Kiwis wake up and see what's happening in this country. Democracy is being eroded by Government changing legislation so referendums can't be held locally by people who have every right to make their voice heard on decisions that affect them and their future.

I take your point and don't necessarily disagree with your underlying theme, but I see an issue in how you are using the word "Democracy". Our Govt is a democratically elected body, elected to govern the country. The majority of the people chose them to make the hard decisions and get on with it. Consequentially, it can be argued that democracy is not being eroded unless they put a stop to elections.
I'm not aware of the legislation to stop local referendums that you mention, but even so, referendums are a poor way of determining a majority view. An issue that gets a majority view today may change next week, the marijuana referendum at the last general election being a case in point, I would guarantee a different outcome if another was held tomorrow. Besides, individuals still have the right to petition and lobby your MP, make submissions to parliament, even take your soapbox down to the Octagon and try to persuade the public to your point of view, and the like.
I think arguing that democracy is being eroded is the wrong tack to take when opposing an initiative. It is the proposed change that should be the focus of objection.

The ‘reinvention’ and altered administration of the nation's Three Waters Services is a massive undertaking. Not something any government should undertake without significant consultation with both existing service providers and subscribers. Given the government has signalled two major aspects of this ‘reinvention’ - large borrowing and significant Iwi input - one would have imagined this ‘debate’ should have been taken to a general election where democracy should be at its best. The quality delivery of three waters services impact on each and every NZer both financially and physically. All NZers should have a voice in the structure of this delivery, this can only be achieved through nation wide well informed debate not a quick superficial agreement via a struggling local body keen to divest themselves of ageing infrastructure.

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