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Waikato Regional Council Urges Pause On Three Waters Reform

Waikato regional councillors have today joined nation-wide calls for the Government to pause its drive to implement its controversial Three Waters Reform programme.

The council agreed there was wide misunderstanding of the programme and urged the Government to undertake further community consultation.

The reform programme is being led by the Minister of Local Government Hon Nanaia Mahuta through the Department of Internal Affairs in voluntary partnership with Local Government New Zealand and iwi Māori as the Crown’s Treaty partner.

The reform proposes to aggregate New Zealand’s 67 council water services into four large water services entities.

While the regional council does not own water services assets, it does have an interest in the policies, oversight and regulation of the wider freshwater, wastewater and stormwater system, including the interface of stormwater with flood management.

During today’s meeting councillors agreed there was a fundamental need for reform but questions remained about whether the proposed model was the right one.

Waikato Regional Council Chair Russ Rimmington said, “It is clear the wider community has had little opportunity to understand the Government’s proposals.

“It’s important a full and proper process is followed to enable the voice of the local community and consumers to be heard in these discussions and they are satisfied the benefits of aggregation and scale will be realised and deliver them affordable, equitable and sustainable local services.

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“It’s clear that significant investment is going to be needed over the next 30 years to maintain, replace and upgrade three waters infrastructure to meet community expectations, the more stringent environmental standards, as well as to provide for growth.

“But many of our communities with small rating bases, or those with limited ability to increase rates or borrowing, face unsustainable pressure.”

Cr Rimmington said regional councillors believed more time was needed to understand the potential loss of economies of scope in local councils and what this meant for local government, and the economic and social impact of the proposals on Waikato communities more generally.

“Ideally, we would also have greater clarity about the future of local government, which is under review too, before embarking on major change to three waters.

“This is why we support calls for more time to allow for greater understanding of all the implications of the Three Waters reform on communities and iwi partners,” Cr Rimmington said.

During the meeting, councillors adopted an interim position statement on the Three Waters reform.

It supported the intent to significantly improve the safety and quality of drinking water, and the environmental performance of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems that are crucial to people’s health and wellbeing and the environment.

It recognised the need to regulate and manage drinking water supplies and appreciate the targeted changes to improve the regulation and performance of wastewater and stormwater networks. It supported an approach based on scale, complexity, and risk profile, and welcomed having drinking water safety plans, source water risk management plans, and a systemwide approach that builds resilience into drinking water supplies.

The statement supported reform that enables investment in infrastructure that will improve environmental outcomes. It also pointed to Te Ture Whaimana o Te Awa o Waikato – the Vision and Strategy for the Waikato River as the primary direction-setting document for the Waikato River and its catchments.

Councillors also felt the principles of te ao Māori needed to be taken into account in every aspect of the three waters discussion. Te ao Māori encourages thinking to include the broad perspectives of wellbeing (oranga), kaitiaki (guardianship and stewardship), integration, longevity and connection to place, and seeing things holistically and in connection with everything: the land, environment, communities and people.

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