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Reports Do Not Reflect Whangarei’s Situation – Deputy Mayor

A preliminary look at reports from the Water Industry Commission of Scotland, Beca, Deloittes and Farrierswier generate little confidence that Whangarei District will benefit from Government’s proposed Three Waters reform.

“The reports look at the general picture nationally and do not address the distinctive circumstances of Whangarei District Council,” said Deputy Mayor Greg Innes.

“We have not yet received Government’s analysis of our own situation, despite requesting it over a month ago, so we have done our own. Our preliminary analysis of the situation indicates that Whangarei could be considerably less well off if forced to amalgamate with Watercare in Auckland, so we would expect Government to provide compensation to Whangarei District Council ratepayers if the move goes ahead.

“Our research shows that in addition to losing control of our very well managed and maintained infrastructure, our residents would lose up to $150 million in borrowing power that those assets provide

“It was a key part of the Government’s proposal that no Council would be worse off under Three Waters. For many councils that might be true, but we are unusually well off in terms of our three waters infrastructure in Whangarei, so that’s probably not true in our case.

“While Councils across New Zealand, in particular Auckland and Wellington, are having major problems with failing wastewater infrastructure, we are about 10 years ahead of most of them.

“The citizens of Whangarei campaigned hard in the 2000s for improvements to our wastewater systems and Council has responded with more than $90 million investment in the past 15 years. That has ended the raw sewage overflows that routinely caused harbour closures following storms in past decades, and our enhanced storage and treatment process are delivering one of the best services in the country. The environmental results have been of direct benefit to Whangarei residents. Watercare is yet to get on top of this issue and Auckland beaches are regularly closed because of sewage contamination,” he said.

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“In addition, while other Councils, particularly Auckland, struggled through months of water restrictions following the worst drought in generations in 2019/20, we were able to offer water to other Councils in our region. Watercare still has not recovered from that drought.

“In contrast, by ring-fencing the income from water rates over the years Whangarei has not only been able to respond to population growth, we have also built the brand new, $27 million freshwater treatment plant at Whau Valley which has just been commissioned. Additional water sources have been enhanced and we are preparing to bring new water sources on line in the next few years.

“We have been open with the public that stormwater is the next cab off the rank, and where our attention will be focused over the next 10 years. With climate change and sea level rise already upon us, this has never been more relevant and we are ready to respond,” said Deputy Mayor Innes.

“So, in short, we can see how the theory of reform and amalgamation may work, but we can also see that we have a unique circumstances up here. Many of the arguments and assumptions don’t seem to be apply to us when we consider the information we have gathered.

“I would be very concerned if Government backed away from the “opt out” process promised, as well as from the compensation that would be required to fulfil the promise that no Council would be worse off if three waters goes ahead. We were promised that these reforms would be voluntary and that our individual circumstances could be taken into account. To compulsorily take our ratepayers assets would be immoral. We would need to be compensated so that we are not worse off, as promised by Government,” he concluded.

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