Christchurch city councillors united against Three Waters reform proposal

Christchurch wastewater. Photo: Supplied
Christchurch wastewater. Photo: Supplied
Christchurch city councillors will decide in December if the local authority will opt in or out of the Three Waters reform proposed by the Government.

Broadly the city council will be paid $122.4 million to transfer $6.9 billion worth of water-related assets – and $1.1 billion of debt – to a new model where the country’s drinking, wastewater and stormwater networks are absorbed into four new entities, including one in the South Island which covers 21 local authorities.

The council sought feedback from residents through a survey that attracted 5125 responses.

Phrasing of the survey was a talking point, with no explicit ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘for’ or ‘against’ option surprising some ratepayers, and councillors.

Phil Mauger started the conversation last week when he said the lack of a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ option was an oversight.

The Star polled other councillors and Mayor Lianne Dalziel for their view on the Government’s vision for the future of a precious asset and whether the survey was effective in terms of accurately gauging public sentiment. None of the councillors contacted endorsed the proposed reforms.

Pauline Cotter.
Pauline Cotter.
Pauline Cotter – “I have an issue with the Government being able to basically tear up a section of the Local Government Act - section 130 specifically protects our waters from being transferred or sold as assets.

"The entities are going to be horrendously complex money-hungry beasts which will eat up any efficiencies that might be made. Local authorities will not have the right to direct the entity on investment projects or pricing. We will have no voice.”

Was the survey on the mark? "It was more about garnering people's feelings about how we value our water here and how we want it delivered rather than address the ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’ issue.

"I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t go there but this wasn’t meant to be a consultation, it was meant to be a soft engagement to alert people to what’s happening.” 

Andrew Turner.
Andrew Turner.
Andrew Turner – “I agree nationally there’s a problem to be solved but the proposal in front of us isn’t right for Christchurch.

"It would see the larger councils funding the smaller councils’ infrastructure. There’s also some question about the accuracy of the financial modelling that’s been put in front of us.”

Was the survey on the mark? “We’re not in a position for people to be able to give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer at this stage.

"There’s a need for more information to be out there.”

Jake McLennan.
Jake McLennan.
Jake McLennan – “I suspect they’re trying to push through something before the next election, whether those numbers will be there for water reform after the election you don’t know what you don’t know.

"I can see why the Government would be keen to progress it quickly, but you have to wonder if (fast tracking) is actually leading to information that isn’t as precise as what you’d really need to make a decision as important as this.”

Was the survey on the mark? “It couldn’t have hurt to have included a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ option.

"But I have some sympathy for the view it’s early days and we initially wanted to do more of a holistic survey.”

Sam MacDonald.
Sam MacDonald.
Sam MacDonald – “What’s scary is without consultation they’re talking about changing the Local Government Act temporarily to get these changes through.

"It’s incredibly undemocratic.

"I’m also concerned about the efficiencies they’ve modelled.

"You can’t actually dig down into what lay behind that.”

Was the survey on the mark? “We can debate the questions all we like.

"I’m more interested in the section where people can put their own comments.”

Sara Templeton.
Sara Templeton.
Sara Templeton – “The Government leapt to one solution without actually working with councils on other options.

"Central government has written into legislation that councils need to always give options, but they haven’t done the same.

"There’s a view from central government that as long as they showed people it would be cheaper if it was centralised that would be what drove people’s opinion.

"That’s clearly not the case.

"They want to know they have control over what happens and people can be held accountable.”

Was the survey on the mark? “There hasn’t been enough information on from the Government for people to make a good ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’ decision, but it’s really clear the Government have completely misread the sentiment about water in Christchurch.”

Yani Johanson.
Yani Johanson.
Yani Johanson – “Fundamentally it’s taking away local control. For a city like Christchurch, how would you determine where the priorities are?

"If it was a bigger entity across a wider area what guarantee would you have that the money from Christchurch area was put into fixing our broken infrastructure?”

Was the survey on the mark?  “The survey was to get a general understanding from the community around the issues.

"When we’ve got more information there will be a formal process to get specific feedback on whether we should ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’."

James Gough.
James Gough.
James Gough – “Where approximately $7 billion net worth of assets is transferred away from local ownership for $122.4 million, it’s blatant theft.

"The people of Christchurch are not in charge of their own destiny on this and that’s terrifying.”

Was the survey on the mark? “I’m not going to bag the council for testing the waters on public opinion but I don’t think there’s any value in beating about the bush.

"People are pretty clued up about it at this point and I think there would be a lot of value in getting a direct ‘yes’ or ‘no’."

Aaron Keown.
Aaron Keown.
Aaron Keown – “This is the biggest takeover of any sort in our country’s history and everyone seems to be asleep at the wheel kind of going ‘well, the Government is saying your water isn’t good.

"Most people have clean drinking water.

"It’s not like we’re all drinking sewer water waiting for the Government to save us.

"Water will become a bill like power is.

"There’s a very strong element of predetermination in this, they’re just going to take over water.”

Was the survey on the mark?  "It’s a complete waste of time and ratepayers’ money because the number one question not in there was: ‘Are you happy for us to give our assets to central government?’

"There had to be a straight yes or no answer on that.

"To ask questions like: ‘Do you think we should have clean drinking water?’

"That’s like saying to someone: ‘Do you think you should have oxygen?

"What a ridiculous question to ask.

"No one is going to disagree and the government can say: ‘Look, we’ve got major support right across the whole country for this.

"We’ve done surveys and the overwhelming feedback was positive’."

Tim Scandrett.
Tim Scandrett.
Tim Scandrett – “There’s no question things have to change so why don’t we put 1.5 per cent on GST and use that?

"There’s already a system to collect it, it goes to the Treasury, they can give it to the water authority and then we go from there.

"The other issue is the layer cake of bureaucracy. It’ll be like a trough, let’s be honest.” 

Was the survey on the mark? “Asking everybody if New Zealand should be able to have clean drinking water? That’s the same line from the Government.

"I do think having a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ at the end of it would have been really helpful.”

Anne Galloway – “A lot of people, me included, feel very rushed. It’s such a huge thing we’re being asked to consider. There’s a lot of ifs, buts and maybes that haven’t really been answered.” 

Was the survey on the mark? “It wasn’t a decision-making survey, it was more about getting feedback from the community. Once we’ve got our response sorted out, that’s the point where we should take it to our community and ask: ‘What do you think?’

Mike Davidson – The council has invested millions of dollars into water infrastructure and we’re headed in the right direction. We’re not perfect, but we’re pretty bloody good at what we’re doing.”

Was the survey on the mark? “It’s a start. We’ll have formal consultation when we have all the information. I’ve had a few emails concerned about the survey. I think that’s because they were expecting it to be the only engagement. They’re happy once they realise this is just the start of the conversation.”

Catherine Chu.
Catherine Chu.
Catherine Chu – “The last we want is this to be an asset grab by stealth and democracy to be completely thrown out the window, I’ve had more calls, emails and texts about this than I have on any other issue. I’ve not had one positive response about this reform.”

Was the survey on the mark? “In hindsight asking whether to opt or out would have been a good poll to have, but the more important question was ‘what are the major concerns and what do they want to see in the reforms?’

Jimmy Chen – “We’re proud of our water, these assets should be owned by the people of Christchurch. We need a clearer picture, more information. How much does each household have to pay?”

Was the survey on the mark? “This survey wasn’t formal consultation, we need more information and this will happen.’’

Lianne Dalziel.
Lianne Dalziel.
Mayor Lianne Dalziel – “There are a huge number of issues that still need to worked through. The council will sign off on its feedback to the Government on September 27. That’s when we’ll indicate a position on the reform based on all the information provided to us.”

Was the survey on the mark? “We’re weren’t in a position to say ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’ but we are committed to consulting with our community on that decision when the times comes.”









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