This week, CHB Mayor Alex Walker front-paged with her continuing opposition to the Government’s ‘3 Waters’ reform proposal.
This comes on the heels of Water New Zealand releasing its latest National Performance Review 2020/21 that assesses and compares drinking water, wastewater and stormwater provision across the country. Guess what … local government flunks badly.
While our mayors moan on and on about Government ‘not bringing the people along’ on the need for water services reform, it is our mayors who have failed to take that leadership responsibility, just as they and their predecessors have failed to provide First World quality water services.
Two failures – a failure to perform in the first instance (so we have s**t in the Tukituki, s**t in Havelock North drinking water, s**t in Napier’s streets and the Ahuriri Estuary, and s**t in the Wairoa River) and a failure to lead responsible public discussion of the real issues (so we have s**t in the public debate as well).
The real issues aren’t about trumped-up ‘loss of democracy’ (pure council turf protection) but rather about safe, dependable water systems.
Which the Water NZ Review (here it is if you want the real facts) makes abundantly clear we are not getting from local government.
At the same time, findings of the Ministry of Health Annual Report on Drinking Water Quality 2020-2021 showed that more than 20% of New Zealanders received drinking water that failed to comply with drinking water standards. Havelock North knows what that’s like.
Our drinking water systems on average leak 21% of the water they should supply, and it’s getting worse each year – yet we lament ‘water security’. There were more than 2,000 dry weather sewage overflows in the period just reviewed. The list of failures goes on and on. And we read about them regularly right here in our own backyard. Yet our mayors protest they can do better and ask us to rally around local democracy.
The water industry will need an additional 6-9000 skilled workers over the next 30 years if we are to meet safe drinking water standards and improved environmental outcomes. No local authority is going to solve that problem.
One day we fault our councils for not being able to fix potholes or not cut down the wrong trees; the next day we sign petitions to protect their right to give us shitty water systems. Go figure!
Far more credible than our mayors is Brian Hanna, who served nine years as mayor of Waitomo District. He has been independent chair of the Central/Local Government Steering Group charged with advising Government on the proposed reforms. He is also a board member of the new national drinking water regulator, Taumata Arowai.
Here’s what Hanna recently wrote in Farmers Weekly (4 April 2022):
“What has concerned me has been some of the misinformation that has been fed to communities by a small number of mayors and councillors, when the research shows their communities will benefit from the reforms.
“I do question their motives and whose interests they are representing.”
And he notes: “The biggest losers if reform does not proceed are likely to be smaller rural communities in NZ who will face huge, eye watering costs to upgrade infrastructure networks over the foreseeable future.”
I urge you to read Hanna’s full article here (page 25)
Mayor Walker knows full well that her constituents’ water bills will rise from $300-$400 a year to $2000 or more.
But she can oppose the reforms because she has an insurance policy. She expects Hastings and Napier ratepayers will come to the rescue and subsidise their country cousins in CHB and Wairoa … as the Hastings and Napier mayors have committed.
How many Hastings/Havelock North/Napier ratepayers know your mayors have made that commitment with your money as part of their counter-plan to the Government reforms? When were you consulted? So much for ‘local democracy’.
Personally, I support such cross-subsidisation. CHB and Wairoa residents are entitled to the same water quality and level of service as the struggling masses in Havelock hills, Bluff Hill and Poraiti.
But I happen to believe the Government plan will better deliver on the equity promise to all New Zealanders and ensure the actual quality and affordability of future service.
That said, if a day comes when I see Mayors Hazlehurst and Wise write the cheques for CHB’s and Wairoa’s urgently needed improvements in water services, having covered their own needs, no one will applaud more loudly than me.
Amalgamation will have arrived!