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Water review needs coherent leadership

Recognising a need for change in New Zealand’s water industry brings New Zealand a small step closer to addressing issues with decaying water infrastructure, but coherent leadership from central government will be needed to make a change, say New Zealand’s contractors.

Civil contractors are heavily involved in the construction and maintenance of water networks, performing tasks such as pipeline installation, construction of wastewater management plants and maintenance of riverbanks.

Civil Contractors New Zealand Chief Executive Peter Silcock said while today’s media releases from Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Minister of Health Dr David Clark set the scene and timeframes for engaging in discussion with local government, they did not yet offer any clear solution to systemic issues in the management and regulation of New Zealand’s water networks.

“We appreciate this is a complex discussion with a lot of stakeholders. Recognising the need for change is an important step forward. There’s a lot at stake here, and we hope that come June 2019 we will see some coherent leadership from central government.”

The statements indicated a rethink of local government’s role in water management at the policy level, with options on the table including aggregation of water services under a central entity and different regulation models.

While there was a “clear case for change” stated in the cabinet papers, there was also a clear indication that any policy reforms were now off the table until June 2019, with regulatory reforms off the table until late 2019.

Mr Silcock said the industry had anticipated the announcement of a new water regulator instead of another seven months of discussion between central and local government. While there was clear need for all parties to have their say, debate would eventually need to yield a course of action to be effective, he said.

“It’s understandable that Government wants to have a well-grounded perspective, and we need to have this discussion. Eventually there will be some tough questions to answer in this space and it won’t be possible to keep everyone happy.”

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