Covid has stopped many things in its tracks, but the legislative agenda is not one of them.
You may have seen the Government’s recent ‘‘education’’ campaign about its proposal to change how ‘‘Three Waters’’ services — drinking water, wastewater and stormwater — are delivered.
The goal of the reform is to make sure New Zealanders get safe, reliable and affordable water services, that support good health and environmental outcomes.
No-one would argue with that.
They tell us that more money needs to be invested in getting existing networks up to scratch, and to support growth.
But there are many unanswered questions about the Government’s proposed solution: four regional-scale water entities that will take control of our water services, as well any debt owed on the assets.
How illusory are the promised financial benefits to households? How Herculean the assumptions about economies of scale?
It’s unclear how communities will have a voice in, let alone influence over, local decisions in the reformed system.
We need to make sure housing capacity is provided where it makes sense, rather than where it may be cheapest to put pipes in the ground.
We don’t know how strong any barriers to future privatisation are.
This issue is generating some noise at last, but not all grievances are created equal.
I have no time for the dog-whistle racism coming from some quarters, quivering at the idea that iwi would be involved in decision-making.
There’s also a degree of cynical opportunism from those opposed to this Government more generally. Some of the voices concerned about retaining public assets were noticeably absent when our energy companies were being flogged off.
Which makes it easier to dismiss the very real concerns I, and many of us in local government, have.
Councils have been given until October 1 to provide feedback on the potential impacts of the proposed water reforms.
That will inform the final proposal, to be signed off by Cabinet.
This will be the basis for the ultimate question — should we stay or should we go — which needs to be answered by Christmas.
Time is tight.
At the outset of this process we were promised two things: that opting in to the new system would be a genuine choice for councils to make, and that our community would have the opportunity to be involved.
The latter is looking less and less likely, which makes the former incredibly difficult.
But what is council’s position?
We don’t have one, because we don’t know the question yet, but we have plenty of concerns about what we know so far.
Our staff are working through the data we’ve been provided, to analyse and present back to council.
We’ll hold a special meeting in late September to consider the substance of our feedback to provide to the Government.
There will certainly be plenty of it.
We want to talk to our community about the Government proposals, and you’ll hear more from us on this in the coming weeks.
However, there are still too many unknowns to be able to do that properly.
With mayors across Otago and Southland, I’ve asked the Government to slow down the process, and allow time for meaningful public engagement.
After all, this is the biggest proposed change to the form and function of councils in more than 30 years.
The very least that councils and communities deserve is the time to get it right.