A high stakes game of chicken is being played between the Government and local councils around the country, including ours here in Hawke’s Bay.

At issue is how vital ‘3 waters’ infrastructure – drinking water, storm and wastewater – will be planned and paid for going forward.

Our councils protest that – mea culpa, past sins of omission aside – they can manage this activity better and, even more incredibly, pay for the necessary improvements without breaking their debt ceilings and the backs of their ratepayers.

No credible evidence has been supplied to support either claim.

Nevertheless, councils are working hard to generate a local populist outcry against the Government stealing our communities’ family jewels (actually, failing pipes and pumps, treatment plants that send our effluent into the Bay), with faceless bureaucrats deciding our water fates.

Politically, the councils are daring Government to swim against this tide of supposed public outrage and impose the consolidations that would rationalise water service delivery and make it less costly.

Very likely there’s a fair amount of posturing going on here, with the real outcome sought by councils being simply a ‘better deal’ from Government – e.g., a dollop more local voice and gobs more subsidy money from the Treasury. What mayor/councillor wouldn’t want more for less?

It’s a great re-election tactic for incumbent councillors to frighten and embrace their constituents, circle the wagons and protect us all from the invading Huns.

For its part, the Government – if it concludes that councils can’t see beyond their next local elections next year – wields the ultimate threat of dictating the outcome via legislation that requires all councils to participate like it or not … game over.

So who will blink first in this political game of chicken?

And how will the public respond?

Napier City Council’s survey of pubic opinion on this matter found that only 38% believed themselves to be ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ informed. And most of that ‘informedness’ would have been driven by councils’ one-sided war cries.

At the nub of this is equity and affordability of modern water systems … billions of dollars at stake nation-wide, hundreds of millions in HB. NCC touts that 48% of its survey respondents are prepared to pay more “to retain local representation for decision-making and service delivery?”

What a disingenuous framing of the question, linking the higher cost to “local representation” (as opposed millions more dollars required for pipes and pumps etc) after the previous question links representation to preserving local voice in “enabling growth in Napier” (implying Government control will quash Napier’s future). The pollster should be embarrassed for asking such loaded questions.

But even as loaded, 52% said they would not be willing to pay more. And, as the table below shows, most of those who said they would be willing to pay more were thinking in the neighbourhood of $200/year or less, which would be a drop in the bucket against the substantially higher costs actually looming ahead.

Watch the 48% who say they would pay more evaporate if told the actual higher cost would be $500 or $1,000 a year.

Given the disinformation flowing from our councils, it refreshing to see that at least some councils still appreciate fiscal reality. I strongly urge you to read this account from Newsroom providing the minority view from councils who support the Government plan. 

What are our councils smoking that these poor folks haven’t yet found?!

Join the Conversation


  1. My major problem with the Government’s proposal is the large amount of governance that we as ratepayers will have to pay for. There seems to be layer after layer of new committees etc that literally are going to be appointed by some outside body – with apparently little or no input from the people who will have to pay for it – us ratepayers. My question is “why do we need such a bloated bureaucracy to handle a single matter – water – regardless of complications that may (will) arise and why do the local ratepayers have to pay for the work being done in an area that may be half the country away ”
    And all this with no compensation to local councils (ratepayers) who will no doubt have their rates increased considerably to cover the additional costs caused by that bloated bureaucracy

  2. Once it’s under iwi control its gone forever. Try reading the released cabinet papers. No compensation and no representation
    Thought Mr Belfort would be against that being an American!

    1. It’s Belford with d. Apparently you read cabinet papers as carefully as my name … you’re wrong on both counts.
      As for me being an ‘American’ is that better or worse than being a Maori in your eyes … just want to get your hierarchy straight.
      I’m actually a dual citizen — NZ and US, not that it should matter.

  3. As so often in the regions there is a prevalent inability to see over the horizon, which is the dominant reason why the battle against Covid-19 is today proving so difficult to contain. “Our resources (financial investment) taken from us” and “loss of local representation and control.” While the run-down state of three waters management is a nation-wide problem with critically important health problems everywhere. Locally elected council representatives have created this parlous situation and now have neither the finance or, seemingly, the technical acumen to competently handle the situation, demanding huge investment from central government to adequately face the future. In reality, the only financial concern is the huge amount of money that correction of the nation-wide, decaying infrastructure demands and one way or the other, the user public is going to pay. To borrow a cliche, “We are all in this together, as a team of five million” and need to take a holistic and broad view, as opposed to “Us in this region, versus everyone else.” “Bloated bureaucracy,” is exactly what currently obtains, of amateurs in control, spread-out right across the country as local body members, so often sweating the small stuff under the weight of political “pumpkin politics,”
    and worrying if those in the street still smile as they pass me.

  4. Well Water is managed by the State in South Australia and by the national government in Scotland. Of course there will be transfer of resources from those areas wher costs are low to those areas where costs are high. I think it is a basic issue of equity that the same high quality of water sgould be available in all locations in NZ. This will not happen without something like what is proposed by the government. Einstein is quoted as saying ” Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Looks to me like that is what local councils are saying. We should monitor the administration to minimise burocracy but consistent professional management is actually likely to accieve positive results

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