The Government’s Three Waters Reform proposal aims to ensure that all New Zealand communities have safe and sustainable drinking water supplies, wastewater reticulation, treatment and disposal systems and stormwater services.
Those services are currently provided by local councils and while they are generally in good shape in the western Bay, many communities are not in such a fortunate position.
A national study indicates that to continue to meet environmental and water quality standards, keep up with demand and cope with the impacts of climate change on our three waters infrastructure, New Zealand councils may need to invest up to $180 billion over the next three decades.
Given that many councils, including Tauranga City, are debt-limited, that’s a scary prospect.
To futureproof our waters services, the Government is proposing the formation of four regional entities that would not be constrained by debt limitations and would have the capability required to provide the high-quality services New Zealand needs.
Tauranga and 21 other councils from Waikato to the Whanganui/Rangitikei area would be part of, and would own ‘Entity B’, on behalf of their communities.
If the proposal proceeds, Entity B would own all of the waters assets, take-on all of the debt relating to those assets and – from 2024 onwards – be responsible for providing and maintaining three waters services and any investment required to ensure they remain fit-for-purpose into the future.
That’s the big picture, but as always, we have to consider the detail before making any commitment on our community’s behalf.In that regard, the Commissioners have a number of issues to raise with the Government. These include:
- The need to ensure that our communities can provide local input into the reform process
- Protecting our water assets against privatisation
- Ensuring that Tauranga’s growth needs are met
- Understanding what the reforms mean for stormwater, because the focus to date has largely been on drinking water and wastewater
- And clarifying how our assets are managed during transition, if the reforms do proceed.
We’ve also asked the community for feedback, via Council’s website (www.tauranga.govt.nz/three-waters-reform).
Up until mid-September, there had been 182 responses via the online survey provided, but also 30-plus emails directly to Commissioners.
It’s fair to say that most of those did not support the reform, although many did not engage with the reform proposals and merely asked for a referendum on the decision to join.
The Commission will nevertheless report the unfiltered community feedback to Government.
Key community concerns, again as at mid-September, include:
- The loss of a community voice in the governance and management of waters services
- Removal of assets paid for by the community, without fair compensation
- The need for a binding referendum to determine whether Tauranga opts in or out of the reforms
- Fears that iwi were being given disproportionate power in determining Entity governance arrangements, and/or ownership of assets
- Fears about the privatisation of community assets.
There’s obviously a lot more water to flow under the bridge on this subject and we’ll keep the community informed and, where possible, engaged in the reform process as it develops.