Mayoral view: Local Water Done Well needs to be affordable

Rob Scott
Rob Scott
"Three Waters", "Affordable Waters", "Local Water Done Well". Three different titles for one issue, a debacle that over the past five years has caused a nationwide stir and continues to raise heckles.

When I look at the three successive labels for the issue, which has been renamed by those in charge of it to try to distance themselves from all the problems the previous name carried (interestingly two in the same government), they all ironically encapsulate what we need.

We need all the three waters services, they need to be affordable and they need to be done well. I wonder if the next name will be "Local Three Waters That’s Affordable and Done Well".

In one of my businesses, I had a sign you might have seen before. It states: "We offer three kinds of service – good, cheap and fast. You can pick two. Good and cheap won’t be fast, fast and good won’t be cheap, cheap and fast won’t be good."

After hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars have been spent on Three Waters and Affordable Waters (without much action on the ground), we are now dealing with Local Water Done Well. I like the ‘‘local’’ part. I like the ‘‘done well’’ part. But it also needs to be affordable.

We could talk about the elephant in the room, but this is more like the tiger in the room – it’s a bit more agile than an elephant and can bite a lot harder. How do we make local water done well affordable? We need to be pragmatic with how we do it, we need to do it locally and, again, we need to realise there are different issues facing different parts of the country.

To solve Auckland’s problem, balance sheet separation from the council-controlled organisation (CCO) Watercare might be sufficient. Auckland has the economy of scale to afford debt repayments and, with the council already being at its debt ceiling, this measure helps.

A CCO in Southland, where we have the capacity but not necessarily the willingness for more debt, balance sheet separation is like tidying your room by putting everything in the wardrobe. It’s not that we need to move the debt off our balance sheet, we cannot afford the repayments of the debt.

If this is going to be Local Water Done Well, I am looking forward to having conversations with Wellington to walk to the talk.

 - By Southland District Council Mayor Rob Scott