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Three Waters Reform Package Welcomed, Now’s The Time To Talk

A $2.5 billion package to support Three Waters reforms was welcomed by Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese on Thursday 15 July, following an announcement by Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

The proposed reforms aim to transfer New Zealand’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services from local authorities to four new regional water services entities.

Speaking at the Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) Conference in Blenheim, where the support package was announced, Mayor Reese described the announcement as a pivotal moment for local government.

“We know that the Three Waters status quo is not working – and will not work in much more obvious ways in the future, when we factor in growth and climate change.

“But today, we have in front of us a new package that focuses not on what councils might lose, but what communities could gain. Local government can start to see what a future without water service delivery might look like – and how that would allow us to focus more rapidly on delivering wellbeing to our communities.”

The package is split into two component parts.

"No worse off" component: $500 million is set aside to provide certainty for local authorities that they will be supported through the transition process, and to ensure the financial impacts of reform will be managed. This “no worse off” component of the support package seeks to address the costs and financial impacts that councils would incur such as the transfer of water assets, liabilities, revenue and staff to a new water services entity. The funding also ensures councils will be able to continue to sustainably perform their non-water related roles and functions.

The “better off” component: comprises $1 billion Crown funding and $1 billion from the new water services entities and is allocated to councils on the basis of a nationally consistent formula. Councils will be able to use this funding to support the three waters service reform and focus on other local wellbeing outcomes associated with climate change and resilience, housing and urban design and planning, and community wellbeing. Under this formula, Nelson would receive a support package in the region of $20 million.

Mayor Reese said the next eight weeks are for Nelson City Council to review the information and resolve any outstanding issues including accountability, influencing local decisions, and making sure council’s plans for growth are appropriately integrated with water services planning.

“I want to acknowledge that not everyone will agree with the proposal, but it does aim to balance the many complex considerations, common challenges and local differences across communities throughout New Zealand. It’s obvious to everyone that the water reforms work if everyone participates, so every community can benefit. As a Council, we will take this time to consider how this proposal can work for Nelson.

“I also want to stress the importance of iwi engagement and partnership - and the significance of walking together through these reforms. Iwi have an innate interest in the protection of wai Māori. The Government has put great emphasis on building flexibility into the model, so that councils and mana whenua can adapt elements of the structure to suit local needs and tikanga.”

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said all water assets would be retained in local ownership and a public referendum provision would provide “the ultimate protection” against privatisation. Mechanisms would also be put in place to provide communities with a say in how water assets and services are managed.

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