Our local territorial councils have just about managed to make ‘3 Waters’ a term recognized by most Hawke’s Bay households. Mostly by trying to scare the beejeebies out residents by warning that Wellington bureaucrats are preparing to plunder the region, stealing our water faucets and garden hoses.

With the Government expecting feedback on its proposal to consolidate the delivery of water services by October 1, the press releases have flowed from our councils, each raising objections to the Government’s ‘3 Waters’ plan.

In occasional moments of honesty, the councils admit that they (their predecessor councils, that is) have totally botched their public duty to provide effective modern infrastructure that delivers safe drinking water and disposes of stormwater and wastewater without continually fouling our rivers, streams, estuaries and marine environment.

So each council professes hand-on-heart that ‘business as usual’ is unacceptable. And to their credit our councils have in recent long term plans (LTPS) initiated the long overdue investment programmes to upgrade their various water systems. It will take years and hundreds of millions of dollars to bring these systems to 21st Century standards.

A recent study conducted for the region conservatively estimated that $605 million will be required to bring Hawke’s Bay’s aging water systems up to modern world standards in terms of safety, reliability and environmental performance. That amount, almost twice the $313 million forecast in our councils’ most recent long-term plans, is considered conservative.

And that’s where the Government steps in.

  1. The Government says every citizen of NZ has an equal right to modern water services.
  2. The cost of getting there is gigantic — $185 billion nationwide and rising with each new estimate. 
  3. Some form of financial cross-subsidy will be needed so that – as in HB’s case with CHB and Wairoa – councils serving residents living in areas with lower rates bases can afford the upgrades. Mayor Little just wants the Government dosh, no strings attached, thank you.
  4. The Government argues that major consolidation of planning, rating for, and implementing service upgrades and delivery is both required to get the job done at all (avoiding local council backsliding) and to get it done efficiently (given constraints on competent professional staff and need to rationally prioritise need) and at less ratepayer/taxpayer cost.

Here is BayBuzz’s original analysis of the Government plan.

Any proposal claiming those benefits deserves careful consideration as opposed to scaremongering. The Government is not the villain here; the villains are scores of previous mayors and councillors, names long forgotten, who failed in their duties.

Our local councils fear their loss of control over this turf and insist they can be trusted to do a better job in the future. Fingers crossed on that one.

And they’ve been working on a new regional structure they insist will overcome the shortcomings of the past, but somehow miraculously solve the financial difficulties of providing the same improved level of service across the region (will Hastings and Napier help subsidise their poor cousins in CHB and Wairoa?) while meeting tougher environmental standards.

In the weeks ahead, perhaps the Government will modify its proposal – simplification of the governance structure would help, for example. But it should not back off one inch on its objective – guaranteeing water systems and services that are safe for human and environmental health and available to all New Zealanders wherever they live.

The burden of proof here is on local councils, not the Government.

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10 Comments

  1. I’m all for huge improvement in all our infrastructure – but – if Government wants to take it over they need to pay the councils the cost of the said infrastructure that ratepayers have already paid for. Otherwise it’s a straight theft of the assets with no compensation – and on top of that the ratepayers are expected to pay for future improvements – still without that compensation for payments already made. I also can’t see how some amorphous body covering a huge area can have any real idea of more local matters – they will only have a watered down idea of what is needed in a huge area rather than specific localities.

  2. Your article seems surprisingly biased towards govt my question is who are you working for. Where is your coverage of Maori Governance and ownership. Rate payers have paid for & own these assets some good some not so good. Not happy about Govt ramming this through, we are a democracy so let’s continue to leave this up to councils & their ratepayers. I have yet to see this type of legislation work from Wellington. Just look at Whanau Ora we all knew that wouldn’t work from day one!! We need honest and transparent reporting not biased comment.. thank you

  3. Excellent article. How short people’s memories are re the mismanagement that led to the Havelock North water crisis! How long before underinvestment returns! I don’t consider central govt the enemy here. Just have concerns about the potential for privatisation of water in the future which would not serve our communities well

  4. It always amazes how the publics executive powers come up with grand schemes costing mega bucks to solve problems. Most often, they totally underestimate costs and overestimate the end result. Local, regional and national governments are doing an equally lousy job here.
    All the while they miss the lowest hanging fruits. In the 3 waters arena these might be: mandatory storm water and grey water collection for new residential homes and composting toilets. This would take pressure off the existing infrastructure and, assuming such new builds would come with reduced rates, would act as an incentive for existing house owners to retrofit such systems.

  5. I’m with poster Bevan above..the Govt. is working on centralising everything to Wgtn where they can bureaucratically control output across the board…look how that’s worked out with the rollout in Vax etc..if you read between the lines, Mahuta’s proposal is also a thinly -veiled attempt for Maori to have a big say in control of a God- given thing from the heavens called water, and to clip the ticket on the way through which amounts to billions for Maori…and that’s a fact, as the 3 Waters proposal incl. co-governance by Maori…as John Key said the last time this circus came to town ” no-one owns the water; it drops from sky and goes to the sea”…it’s the mismanagement of councils with infrastructure that is debatable but not the actual water..I’m with the councils rejecting this shifty attempt to move all water control down to Jacinda-grad…if Mahuta tries to legislate to MAKE it happen then all hell will break loose as that would be an assault on democracy !!

  6. Municipal Councils have removed professionals from managing water systems. The three waters proposal will likely result in better professional management of water resources. Changes in legislation regarding registration of professional engineers currently underway also will likely help.

    The decline in water quality is a national problem which has occurred as a result of the action of local councils. Continuing the same system is unlikely to result in change.

    I would suggest that there be some audit of the actions of the 3 waters authority maybe by the Environmental Commissioner.

    As for sale of assets at least with the current government that is unlikely . Careful watch should be kept on all subsequent governments to prevent this taking place.

    And of course some Councils have done a better job than others, but we need to bring NZ up to reasonably uniform high standards. This will require more affluent areas to provide financial resources to les affluent areas for this to be achieved

  7. Any change has to have a community deliver focus and a professional focused governance with a regional flavour, I guess there s a couple of things over looked, much of the initial infrastructure in the day was built with a 50 to 70 percent government subsidy but the forward delivery of a better asset providing for our community is hard to see with the central govt track record with the likes of housing .. so it seems that community assets are best held in a regional entity that has a strong focus on the people it serves ….

  8. Mr Belford’s article has certainly excited a range of opinion, all of which benefits the debate. There is no doubt that Councils in some regions have failed to provide constituents with healthy drinking water, uncontaminated
    recreational water and dependable drainage. Unless change to process occurs, outputs will not improve. So we need change. But challenges to democracy, further deliberate segregation and higher taxation is untenable. So let’s have the facts, warts and all and then a healthy debate.

  9. Yes we need improved water standards throughout new Zealand.

    Yes many councils have not maintained the infrastructure and they need to upgrade / improve the quality of supply but some are up to standard now.

    Yes many will need financial assistance to achieve this in a timely manner.

    No the government does not need to take this over and form another department with another level of costs between the councils and the rate payers/ users.

    All that is needed is a national standard / guideline with allowances for topographical etc requirements of each district and government backing / help for finance.

    If the bill were to be implemented it is assumed that there would suddenly be a waiting group of qualified engineers, managers and maintenance staff etc ready to step in and preform miracles. The world is short of these resources now and will remain so for many years.
    A new department would require a head office in wellington with regional offices throughout New Zealand. A fleet of vehicles, office staff, their equipment with required software and websites etc.

    Don’t reinvent it. Just give the situation some standards to meet, guidance, financial help working with the existing councils and their staff.

    George Lane

  10. this is an exercise in implementing He Pua Pua with Maori control of water
    the proposal of the Hawkes Bay councils to run a regional service answers most of Mr Belforts arguments without handing control to an unelected body which did not pay for the assetts

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