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Manawatū District Council Not Convinced By Government’s Proposed Three Waters Reform Programme

Manawatū District Council is not convinced by the government’s proposed Three Waters Reform Programme, following overwhelming opposition from community feedback.In a written submission to the Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta, Manawatū District Mayor, Helen Worboys, outlined the reasons for the Council’s position.


“This Three Waters Reform Programme, which is government’s preferred model of service delivery, is not in the best interests of the Manawatū Community. This is based on feedback that we have received from our community, our own calculations, and the view of Council,” says Worboys.


The community feedback received by 5:00pm on Wednesday 29 September saw 94 percent of respondents opposed the government’s proposal out of a total of 2540 responses.Council’s three waters assets have an estimated current market value (optimised replacement cost) of $329M and these have been paid for by the community. The Department of Internal Affairs dashboard classifies MDC’s operating performance for three waters as “exceeding expectations”. 


The view of Council and the community is that our three waters infrastructure and service delivery is not broken and does not need fixing. Ongoing renewals, maintenance and upgrades are budgeted in our 10 Year Plan and 30 Year Asset Management Plans.“The community of the Manawatū have told us that they want our three water services to be owned, managed, built and operated locally, by people who understand our district,” says Worboys.


 “We need to be able to be nimble, and make three waters planning decisions in conjunction with roading planning, district planning and with a local economic development lens.”While the removal of associated three waters debt is highlighted as a benefit of the proposal, Worboys says that “any additional borrowing and interest expense would still need to be recovered from ratepayers”, which potentially means ratepayers are worse off once their water entity bill is factored in.

The rural community also highlighted issues around the ownership and management of rural water schemes and raised doubts that committees that manage these schemes would see their current cash reserves reinvested into their assets.Council suggested that while Iwi/Māori have an increased presence under the proposed governance model, Council believes that local Iwi/Māori may lose their voice and influence over three waters decision making in the same way as council would under this proposal. The community also had considerable criticism of the cumbersome governance system, and the lack of democratic accountability.


Mayor Worboys has said that the council’s preferred position is to retain the status quo. However, they are prepared to re-look at and further investigate a regional service delivery model for three waters infrastructure.“Preliminary groundwork on a regional model has been undertaken and was progressing. This was put on hold awaiting government direction from the Three Waters Reforms. 

MDC intends to explore a collaborative regional service delivery model in more detail, including what form and function it will take, and to provide this to government during the formal consultation phase for this Three Waters Review,” says Worboys. 

“There are better ways to address the deficit of investment in three waters infrastructure in some parts of the country.”Council has also highlighted the need for strategic alignment of Three Waters reform, Resource Management Act reform and Local Government reform which has just commenced. “The Government has the cart before the horse. It is too late to review what the future of Local Government should be after it has taken about a third of what Councils do away from Councils,” says Worboys.

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