Central Government’s Three Waters Reform is one of the most radical proposals I have seen during my time in local government. 

Wairoa’s stance is that we would prefer status quo with additional external funding, but we don’t believe the government will agree to this simple fix. Therefore, we are working with the rest of Hawke’s Bay to see if we can develop a regional approach as we cannot see Wairoa benefitting from the government’s proposal. We have joined the four other Hawke’s Bay Councils to review the analysis and modelling behind the Government’s proposal to transfer the delivery of Three Waters from Councils to four multi-regional entities.

Local authorities have until October 1 to consider the impact of the reforms. The discovery of the Delta variant of COVID-19 places New Zealand in a vulnerable position. However, we cannot let the Level 4 lockdown distract us from ensuring the best possible Three Waters outcomes for our communities.

The Three Waters Reform is a national approach, but it carries with it serious ramifications for small communities like Wairoa. We are told we will be better off, but the figures that are being used and supplied by Central Government simply do not stack up.

There are some significant questions we have been asked by our community that we simply don’t have the answers to.

Questions like, will it be the people who are directly connected to the Three Waters, ie, predominantly those who live in town, who will pay more? 

Presently rural septic tank owners pay an annual fee and a blanket charge of 10% towards Three Waters. What will this charge look like under a new entity?

Will Wairoa’s remoteness mean higher costs for our people to receive these services?

Why hasn’t the government consulted with our communities and why now does Council have to pick up the cost of having a conversation with the community?

Mahia residents personally invested millions of dollars into the Mahia sewage scheme – will they be reimbursed?

In Wairoa, Affco receives a reduction in its water rate based on the significant contribution it made to our water supply? This is a mutually beneficial arrangement that saves Affco investing in its own supply and provides a significant contribution to the fixed costs of the Wairoa water supply. Without Affco, town water would be more expensive. Will a new Three Waters entity recognise this contribution?

Every area of New Zealand has such vastly different Three Waters requirements. Why can’t the government prioritise and fund the issues and develop a future plan for the whole country that doesn’t involve creating new entities?

Under the government’s proposal, Wairoa District Council, and the rest of Hawke’s Bay, would be part of an entity that runs from the East Coast down to Wellington and the top of the South Island. Wairoa’s current debt, Three Waters staff, and income would make up one percent of the combined 21 local councils in the entity. How are we ever going to have a say and have our local voice heard when we only make up one percent?

How will this new entity even work without totally duplicating the services Councils already provide? 

Currently, Council’s rates carry a UAGC (Uniform Annual General Charge) which is apportioned across the entire district for services that most residents benefit from irrespective of property value. Administration of billing etc is absorbed within the UAGC – how will billing be charged out by the new entities? How will this even be administrated? There are so many anomalies, such as Māori land, DoC land, etc. which is currently all sorted by local Councils and all on one rating bill.

Is this the start of the removal of other services from local government? You might not always agree with the decisions that Councils make but we are accessible, local and available. We understand our communities and you can vote and have your say through your elected members. Under this proposed new entity, I cannot see how Wairoa, with its one percent, can have a say at all.

The Wairoa District Council manages $103 million of Three Waters infrastructure assets on behalf of our ratepayers. So far, the government has given us $11 million as part of the post-Covid stimulus, plus they are now dangling another $18 million. That only represents 18% of the value of our assets. Will our ratepayers be reimbursed?

The whole reform process has been a shocker. Local government is expected to consult at every level yet central government has ploughed through with this proposal with hardly any consultation and ignoring the consultation process that they expect local government to carry out.

And as we are all very much aware, what happens when our assets get taken over by these four large entities and then privatisation occurs? Who will benefit from the sale of our assets? No government can promise that won’t happen.

Figures we have been given by central government as part of the Three Waters review indicate the Wairoa District Council would need to spend $1.6 billion on Three Waters, over the next 30 years. We believe this figure is way too much and is eight times what Council is forecasting on spending and six times what Council indicated in the Request for Information paperwork it filled out for the Department of Internal Affairs at the beginning of this process.

Our Council was recognised as a high performer in the Three Waters space, higher than other bigger councils, so it is very confusing why, if we have such a high performance, our forecasted spend would be so high?

I thought the 2015 proposal to amalgamate the five Hawke’s Bay councils was a scary time. But at least we were able to join as a region, common sense prevailed, and the proposal was overturned.

Now, again, this is a time for Hawke’s Bay to rally together and present a united front with regional solutions. 

I really urge as many people as possible to become informed and join us on our campaign to get the best result for all our Hawke’s Bay communities.

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  1. I believe that this whole three waters over reaction to Hastings drinking water contamination is the worst thing that could happen in NZ in the sense that it’s all about control of the people. Let’s remember who was in charge of Hastings at that time, Lawrence Yule, did He resign? No, goes into Parliment, elected by the same stupid community where he caused death and illness, National started this bullshit and Labour have carried it on as if it’s the only way forward instead of asking counsels how they could help fund and offer guidance to improve current infrastructures .There are excellent local Services engineers in all councils who have the experience to get it right if the Govt of the day step up to help instead of trying to create yet another think Big project like Muldoon did, this whole idea is something that will be regretted by future generations. Our Drinking, Waste and Surface water services are the Life blood of any community but control must be left in the hands of the local people so that accountability is transparent and not hidden behind some ministerial department who’s advisers got it wrong (again)

    1. Peter Hellyer, Thank you, your comments, and you are spot on. The no blam enquire resulted in the primary cause of the Havelock North contamination event getting off scot-free. One of the most significant findings of the enquire was that decision-makers must be held to account for poor decisions. They are well paid, and the community needs incentives to correct poor behaviour. The DWSNZ weren’t at fault. We are now faced with our central government making decisions likly based on one size fits all, as has been demonstrated with the chlorination of all Drinking Water supplies in NZ. This is in the face of international trends to move away from chlorination as it’s a known carcinogen and not that effective as we are seeing many failures already. We now have a plethora of profit-driven consultants advising councils and our government, with excessive estimates on the cost to fix nonexistent problems dreamed up by people with management degrees aimed at driving higher returns to their shareholders. I’m now afraid that we are seeing the slow move toward corporate ownership of our waters and water infrastructure. We are losing local engineering experience and some councils have already signed up for international corporates to take on the responsibility for our water infrastructure. This is always the most expensive solution based on international experience and comes with the loss of local engineering and historical knowledge that can’t be replaced. Furthermore, funds that should have been remained in the community ends up lining the pockets of international corporations. Keeping the knowledge local helps to build knowledge and capability within the community and many city managers and councils don’t care.

  2. Exactly my sentiments Mayor Craig Little good letter ! The eventual outcome will be more horrendous than the shambles we call our ” Rail System ” that was “privatised” all those years ago by the Govt at that time.

  3. Unfortunately the reality is that municipal drinking water in NZ is not uniformly safe and surface water is declining in quality. This is the result of local government management. Continuing to do the same thing is unlikely to result in positive change. The Three Waters Initiative is a genuine effort to ensure that drinking water is uniformly safe throughout New Zealand and to halt the decline in surface water quality and brig about improvements. As a Civil Engineer I am completely unaware of any major international movement to stop chlorination of drinking water. As has been shown in the recent Napier study this is an extremely expensive undertaking and has significant public health risks associated with it. In my opinion money should not be spent on dechlorination but on ensuring uniform safe drinking water throughout New Zealand and on bring about a trajectory of improving surface water quality. As for ownership. Those of us who pay income tax GST and municipal rates are the same people. There is no proposal to privatize the water infrastructure and it will remain in public ownership under this model. It is true that those municipalities that have dine a relatively good job will end up subsidizing those who haven’t – but that is the reality of all of us being in the same waka and is OK by me

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