Last week the Government took further steps to ready its ‘3 Waters’ reforms.
Writing of this, business journal NBR acknowledged: “There is indeed a reasonable case for restructuring public water infrastructure away from 67 Councils into a small number of functional organisations.
“The cost of high-quality infrastructure for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater is prohibitive for small local authorities; and the performance of the status quo has hardly been exemplary in many areas. There are surely economies of scale to be had through restructuring, as well as an increase in overall expertise through having more focused organisations.”
In the Hawke’s Bay region, Napier and Hastings councils recently completed the Water New Zealand National Performance review. In this, councils report their pipeline conditions as follows:
- Hastings, 17% of drinking water pipelines are in poor condition, and 9% of wastewater network is in poor condition.
- Napier, 42% of drinking water pipelines are in poor condition, 35% of wastewater network is in poor condition and 10% of the stormwater network is in poor condition.
NBR and others nevertheless dispute the governance arrangements in the proposed reforms. But the reform legislation is about to leave the station; upon enactment, the new structure and assignment of responsibilities will take effect from 1 July 2024.
In decisions announced on 29 April by Ministers Mahuta and Robinson, our local councils’ representation on the regional entity that would direct future water infrastructure spending would take the form of ownership shares in that entity. In the case of Entity C (in which HB falls) the combined shares of our four HB councils on the Regional Representation Group would be 6 shares, the largest number in the Group (Group total is 36, Wellington would have 5).
The Government’s figures project that by 2051 without reform the average annual cost to deliver ‘3 Waters’ services in Hawke’s Bay will be as follows, per household: $7,260 in CHB, $4,530 in Hastings, $2,540 in Napier, $8,690 (or more) in Wairoa
With reform, the cost is projected to average $1,290 per year across Entity C.
The reforms would unlock an additional $248 million for HB councils to invest otherwise in their communities, if they so choose. This in addition to $91 million allocated to HB as ‘better off’ funding.
All summarised here:
|Council||Cost of service without reform (2051)||Cost of services with reform (2051)||Additional debt capacity with reform||No worse off funding||Better off support package|
With the needed water infrastructure investments being made, the region’s economy would benefit by an additional 246-367 FTE jobs and a 6.35%-9.5% GDP increase.
Local Government NZ supports the reforms.
Despite the benefits to local ratepayers, our region’s four mayors persist in the folly of fortnightly (or more frequent) media releases bleating on about loss of local democracy. This is like complaining about the train schedule after you’ve missed the train because your car ran out of petrol on the way to the station. So much for mayoral leadership in Hawke’s Bay.
Having not heard them speak out on this matter in defence of their Government, I asked our three local Labour MPs to comment on ‘their’ crucial reform plan.
Only Anna Lorck responded.
Lorck “strongly supports” the reforms, believing they will deliver the scale and bring the capability to deliver the water infrastructure needed to meet the future growth of the region in the most affordable way for households now and in years ahead. She laments that Hastings might squander an opportunity to look ahead and lead the new structure. “I will work hard as a local MP, and with Council, to put forward the case for bringing the headquarters of the new Entity C, with its jobs and expertise, here to Hastings.”
She argues that Hastings, responding to its campylobacter debacle, has to its credit demonstrated its ability to lead in terms of improving water services, but much more needs to be done to support future housing and commercial activities. “Hastings should grab the opportunity to stay ahead,” she says, “We should be looking forward to leading the new structure that will deliver the infrastructure our region needs for its future growth.”
In this regard, it is interesting to note that although Mayor Hazlehurst signs on to every regional media release decrying the Government’s plan, of our four territorial authorities, only the Hastings Council has not joined the formal coalition of councils opposing the reforms.
Mayor Wise hasn’t hedged her bets; she’s been even more critical of the Government’s reform plan. We have yet to see Napier MP and Cabinet Minister Nash step up to bat for his Government’s controversial programme.
Nor have we heard from MP Meka Whaitiri.
I must say I find it odd that Labour’s three local MPs have yet to link arms in stout vocal public defence of their Government’s urgent initiative. Especially when our other local elected leaders have been bashing it week in and week out for months.
Clearly our region’s political leaders see the delivery of 21st Century water services as a political football – some to exploit in the name of ‘local democracy’, some trying hard to avoid.
Which perfectly underscores the value of elevating this crucial responsibility over the heads of local politicians.