Time is tight to debate three waters reform

We’d thought as councillors that rolling out recycling bins with wind-clip lids, and ensuring every household had affordable access to a rubbish bin to limit recyclables contamination, might be our biggest decision this triennium.  But that looks like being eclipsed by looming three waters reform.

You’ve probably heard the government proposes four new entities to take over responsibility for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services (3Waters) currently provided by 67 councils. The Hutt would be part of yet-to-be more imaginatively named ‘Entity C’, taking in the top of the South Island, the Wellington region and the east coast up to Gisborne.

It’s estimated that to renew 3Waters infrastructure, cope with population increase and conform with much stricter environmental limits on waterway pollution will cost Kiwis up to $185 billion over the next 30 years.

In Hutt City alone, 60% of our pipes, reservoirs, sewers, etc., will need to be renewed by 2051 (cost $2.1b). Rates have gone up this year, and will continue to outpace inflation in the medium term, in large part because we’ve budgeted to double 3Waters infrastructure investment to $587m over the next 10 years.

Other councils are in a similar – or worse – cost predicament.  Government-commissioned reports found that through economies of scale, costs would be around 45% lower by 2051 than if there was no reform. In a Hutt context, instead of an average local household paying an estimated 3Waters bill of $2,380 in 2051 the cost would be $1,260.

Some hotly dispute these savings estimates.

Other factors also intrude. 3Water debt would come off Councils’ books, freeing up borrowing capacity for things such as housing and transport improvements, but we’d also be turning over assets built up by generations of Hutt residents (in our case, infrastructure with a ‘book value’ of $500m).

There’s a $2.5b ‘transition package’ on offer, including $500m to compensate any council financially worse off from the change, but this has been criticised as insufficient.  Nevertheless, the sweetener dangled in front of Hutt residents for a reforms ‘yes’ is $38.7m, with payments starting July 2022 onwards for projects that improve residents’ ‘wellbeing’.

Keep your eye on Council’s website, and the 8 September Council meeting, when more financial detail are to be presented.

There are any number of unanswered questions, including:

  *   Will urban areas be subsidising rural communities? It would appear so from government estimates.
  *   How can it be guaranteed the new entities will remain in public ownership, when a future government can change legislation?
  *   What are the future impacts of surrendering current control by democratically elected councils to a board appointed by six council and six iwi representatives from across the entire ‘Entity C’ region?

Councils do not have to decide whether they are ‘in’ or out’ by 30 September, but are asked to suggest improvements that would help get reforms across the line.

It would be entirely unreasonable for a council to give a yes or no commitment without full community consultation.  And frankly for that to happen more information is needed from the government and more time needed for in-depth discussion.  There may even be a case for a referendum if consultation feedback is divided.

By coincidence or not, the submissions deadline is the same day Minister Nanaia Mahuta will report back on local government reforms.  We may yet find, with a number of Councils indicating they’re against the 3Waters proposals, the government makes them mandatory.

  • What do you think about this? I’d be very interested to hear your views, or try and answer your questions. Leave a comment on this post, or Email: simon.edwards@huttcity.govt.nz

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑