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‘A dark day’

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little blasts Government over Three Waters reform.

Government plans to centralise local water assets have been labelled “a dark day for local democracy”.

The Government revealed further details of the plan last week and yesterday Wairoa Mayor Craig Little lambasted those plans.

The proposal is to roll water services, currently owned and largely delivered by 67 councils, into four water entities.

While councils will still own a stake in the multi-regional entity that controls their pipes and reservoirs, they will not have a say on how they deliver water services. The entities will be controlled by boards which are appointed by a panel, which is appointed equally by councils and mana whenua.

“There has been a total lack of engagement from the government and the polls suggest the majority of New Zealanders are against the proposal," Mr Little said.

"Yet, the government continues to kid itself that these few small tweaks to the proposal will change the way people feel about the reform.

“The Government is also really championing its three waters co-governance arrangements for iwi. Yet, in Wairoa for example, we have strong iwi co-governance across our six iwi through Māori wards, the Māori Standing Committee, the Matangirau Board and our tripartite agreement. Under the Government’s proposal our six iwi would have considerably less voice.

“Communities 4 Local Democracy He hapori mō te Manapori, which Wairoa District Council is a founding member of, has presented a 10-point plan for reform that enables the Government to deliver on all its aims while creating opportunities for strong and lasting partnerships and delivering safe, sustainable and affordable water services for all of New Zealand.

‘Not the best outcome’ for Wairoa

“Plus, Wairoa is part of the Hawke’s Bay credible proposal for a local alternative that would see responsibility for Three Waters services staying in the Bay and achieving the very outcomes Government wants from reform.”

National Party local government spokesman Simon Watts last week also backed the Communities 4 Local Democracy alternative plan.

Mr Watts said he had worked closely with the group, which comprises 31 local authorities, and their alternative proposal was “certainly” workable.

“The fact the government will not consider these viable alternative options, particularly when so many people are saying they are against this reform proposal, shows the level of disconnect this government has with everyday New Zealanders,” Mr Little said.

“This is a dark day for local democracy as the Government has continued to force this reform through without taking stakeholders and communities into consideration.

“We could not be more disappointed that the Government has rejected an opportunity to reach a bi-partisan agreement that would deliver what they wanted, instead electing to press on with their reform based on faulty assumptions and flawed analysis.

“The Government’s changes embed an unusual public shareholding model, where shareholders would have no rights other than the ability to decide to privatise services or not. They also propose another level of complexity in governance, taking most councils even further away from a position of influence.”

The proposals did nothing to remove “our real worries” about community property rights and local voice.

“For us to hand over millions of dollars of assets our communities have paid for in return for a single share of no real value is absolutely absurd.

“If the Government can decide by decree to redefine ownership in this way it sets a worrying precedent over ownership on a far wider basis.

“The Government is priding itself on protecting the Three Waters assets so they cannot be privatised at a later date. Don’t forget any laws around asset ownership made by the Government today, can be broken or changed by governments in the future. Nothing is set in stone, there is no security whatsoever. There is no better security than local people owning local assets.”

Government plans meant privatisation of entities could not happen without a 75 majority of MPs’ support.

Mr Little was also very concerned around the further “watering down” of community input, which will particularly affect small councils.

“The model was already significantly flawed in allowing for any real influence from councils. With the new sub-regional groups, it’s likely the voice and influence of smaller councils will be even more reduced.

“For many councils they’ll be moved from able to engage with the decision-makers to being further removed from the bureaucratic entity.

“The Government has also been very quiet on who will pay for future Three Waters improvements and interest on the debt. A lot of people assume the government will pay from here on in, but it won’t. The costs, including the interest on the money borrowed to fund these new entities, will also need to be paid by those people who are connected to the services. If it is going to be the users who end up paying then why go to the expense of setting up new entities?

“This isn’t about parochialism, or patch protection, this is about wanting the best for our community, and the government’s Three Waters proposal is not the best outcome for Wairoa.

“While we’re disappointed in this initial version of the legislation, we’re committed to working to get a better model in place that works for everyone.

“We’d urge everyone to get in touch with their local MPs to ensure they know what you think about this plan, and we’ll be encouraging significant local participation in the select committee process.”

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little.