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Better Water For Everyone? What About Waimakariri?

The Government’s Three Waters Reforms programme is gaining traction in the media.

You have seen a few scary numbers, and the massively misleading advertising campaign, where the Government claim that without water reform there is the potential for astronomical increases in household costs and awful environmental outcomes.

As far as our Council can tell having gone through their data both of these statements are not true and the Council and I have serious concerns about the information and approach.

The Government is proposing to remove water services from Councils and establish four water service entities across the country, with one entity proposed to cover all of the South Island excluding parts of Nelson, Marlborough and Tasman. These entities would look after drinking water, waste water and storm water.

There are broad statements being made about huge efficiencies that will be made and misrepresentations about the dire state of local infrastructure.

We wanted to share the concerns we have so residents get a true feel for what’s being proposed and where the Council stands.

Our first concern is the public relations line or ‘spin’ the Government keep repeating which is that “there is a proven case for change”.

This simply isn’t correct. The Government are claiming for the Three Waters system across New Zealand they’re going to gain efficiencies of over 45 percent. They claim without reform water costs per household could increase up to $3,000 annually by 2051 and that with reform costs will only be $1640.

This despite investing an additional $120B to $150B and employing up to 9000 new staff. You don’t save money by spending billions of dollars and employing thousands of people. It just doesn’t stack up.

It’s also impossible to state the future costs or dollars required for further investment ahead of new standards being released.

We know the numbers in Waimakariri. We ought to as we’ve invested over $100M in water infrastructure over the last 20 years and have a budgeted plan in place for managing these assets for the next 100.

The Government should know our data as well – we supplied it to them – but they’ve made some exceptionally broad and arbitrary statements about the quality of water in Waimakariri. We have commissioned experts to review these statements and provide us with advice.

We’ve asked to see the Government’s data and economic modelling, but to date this isn’t forthcoming. They’re also not providing information on how we have been labelled a ‘band 3’ service provider despite Waimakariri having some of the best water infrastructure in the country. We take great pride in providing our communities with safe and reliable drinking water.

At the moment they’re not meeting their obligations as part of our agreement which is ‘to work together’, this concerns us.

This is why our Council agreed last year to take part in the first part of the reform process (doing so also secured $8M of Government investment in our District).

What we want and need is to see the information, not hear the PR spin.

We need this to have an honest conversation with our community about these proposals and so we can make an informed decision. These are ratepayer owned assets after all.

Our second concern is about representation.

People in Waimakariri care about having a say and knowing there is someone they can hold accountable when things go wrong. The recent flooding event is an example of our Council being able to quickly respond and make decisions that protect our community.

The Government proposal takes meaningful ownership of our assets away from the community. Merging almost all of the South Island into one entity is going to mean Waimakariri locals have little to no representation, control or influence.

There are concerns about cross-subsidisation. The most likely situation is that if this goes ahead our ratepayers will subsidise other Councils that haven’t properly invested in water as opposed to getting better outcomes themselves.

Our hope is the Government take another look at the memorandum of understanding we signed and start working more openly with local government.

Based on the limited information presented so far, the view of the Councillors and myself would be that we do not join the Governments reform programme. At this point we are not convinced there are benefits for the Waimakariri community.

We’ve been told that this reform programme is voluntary. Lately we are hearing that this choice may be taken away, and the Government may legislate and override our community’s democratic rights.

We expect that the Government honour their agreement and allow each Council and community to have the choice to opt in or out.

Our website has a page with all the information we have received to date and we will keep this updated at www.waimakariri.govt.nz.

In summary, our Council has worked hard to upgrade our Three Waters infrastructure over the last 20 years. We are proud of this. This reform programme appears to us to ask our ratepayers to subsidise other communities. This isn’t fair or equitable. At this point we see no gains but higher costs for our community.

Dan Gordon

Mayor

Waimakariri District Council

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