Published: 31 October 2018
In this edition of Frontpage News we focus on water, where there has been ongoing discussion around the three waters - drinking water, wastewater and stormwater - as well as a new programme announced to tackle freshwater quality.
Water, water everywhere - two recent reports on water have been welcomed by LGNZ, and pave the way for more direct policy to tackle improvements for both drinking water, wastewater and freshwater.
Most recently, the Boffa Miskell and GHD report on wastewater costs revealed that affordability challenges are concentrated among a small subset of water treatment plants, servicing about 13 per cent of New Zealand’s population, which supports the sector’s call for a targeted policy response to help small rural councils. Earlier in October, the Government's new work programme to further improve freshwater quality was welcomed by regional and unitary councils - read on to find out more about how councils are improving our water resources.
LGNZ has welcomed the Government’s release of a report by GHD and Boffa Miskell into the costs of upgrading wastewater treatment plants, noting that it supports the sector’s call for a targeted policy response to help small rural councils pay for hard infrastructure upgrades.
“We have long been calling for the government to put in place targeted support for small communities struggling to pay for water infrastructure replacements, particularly as their ratings base shrinks due to aging and urbanisation,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull.
“The report supports this kind of policy intervention, noting that the upgrade affordability challenge is concentrated among a subset of water treatment plants, which only service about 13 per cent of New Zealand’s population.”
“What it doesn’t support is wholesale restructuring of the water sector into regional water monopolies. This report shows that there are specific issues in the wastewater space that need specific policy solutions, targeted to where the problem is, not one-size-fits-all mandatory aggregation.”
Bay of Plenty Regional Council Chair and head of LGNZ’s Regional Sector group Doug Leeder also noted that any reforms to wastewater infrastructure need to be made within the context of the catchments that they discharge into.
“We know that the biggest challenge in the freshwater space is managing diffuse discharges from sources and not point sources, like water treatment plants. In many cases, bringing wastewater plants up to the highest standards would not make a meaningful difference to water quality in some catchments without addressing the impact that diffuse discharges have on these freshwater bodies.”
“We need to focus our efforts to where we can make the most difference in delivering the freshwater standards that New Zealand communities want. We’ve been working closely with Minister for the Environment David Parker on putting in an effective set of regulatory tools to do this. This cooperative partnership is an example of how central government and local government can work together to tackle some of the most challenging environmental issues that we face in New Zealand.”
Mr Cull noted that ultimately local and central government have the same objective in mind, which is to improve the living standards of all New Zealanders, and councils remain committed to doing their part.
“We need to approach reform of the three waters space in the same spirit of cooperation. Only by working together with the owners of the assets and the communities that pay for them can central government put in place effective policy reforms,” says Mr Cull.
LGNZ has played a leading role is the three waters policy space, having conducted a National Information Framework Survey in 2014, which collected detailed data on the three waters assets and services from a total of 70 councils. LGNZ’s 3 Waters Issue Paper provides an overview of this data, and can be downloaded here.
This data was used as the basis of LGNZ’s 3 Waters Position Paper, which was published in 2015, which argued for a refresh of the regulatory framework to ensure delivery of quality potable and waste water services. The paper can be downloaded here. This work informs LGNZ’s Water 2050 project, which advocates for a coherent policy framework that addresses freshwater and water infrastructure issues.
The latest reports of local government excellence programme CouncilMARK™ have been released for Central Hawke’s Bay District Council and Tararua District Council. All reports and more information on CouncilMARK™ can be found here.
Central Hawke’s Bay District Council’s CouncilMARK™ report acknowledges that the Council went through a significant change after the last election and that, while there had been a long period of previous under-investment, the appointment of a new Mayor and CE has resulted in strong leadership with good consultation processes. The report also says that while the Council faces challenges to deliver fit-for-purpose infrastructure strategies and asset management plans, it is aware of its gaps and shortcomings, and is working to improve in these areas.
Tararua District Council’s CouncilMARK™ report shows the council has good financial management in place, which has enabled them to be innovative in their approach to the challenge of a declining population. The report also says that the Council needs more structured thinking and cohesiveness with a clearer strategy for medium term goals, and that while they have a strong employee base, the council needs to implement an HR strategy and further develop its people through training and professional development.
CouncilMARK™ was launched in August 2016 with 18 councils signed up for the inaugural year. These reports are the twenty-second and twenty-third reports to be released.
Each of the 23 reports released to date reflect the different issues and circumstances faced by councils but common findings highlight the linkage between sound governance, overall performance and prudent financial planning across the sector.
Reports also identified councils’ focus on improvement through stronger training for elected members and embedding stronger compliance monitoring and enforcement for environmental issues.
LGNZ President Dave Cull says CouncilMARK™ offers councils and communities an independent assessment of how a council is performing, including areas of excellence and where it could find improvements.
“CouncilMARK™ provides incredibly valuable information that can help councils with how they operate, what they’re getting right and where they could afford to put greater energy. And it gives communities the same information, allowing them an independent view of the work their local councils are doing,” Mr Cull says.
“I congratulate Central Hawke’s Bay District Council and Tararua District Council for showing leadership by joining the CouncilMARK™ excellence programme and on the completion of their first assessment.”
“As a sector we understand we need to constantly show and grow our performance, and CouncilMARK™ offers an excellent opportunity to work towards that. LGNZ congratulates all councils to have participated in the programme so far and looks forward to the participation of all remaining councils.”
Regional and unitary councils have welcomed the announcement of the Government’s new work programme to further improve the quality of freshwater in New Zealand.
“Regional and unitary councils have been working hard to implement the NPS for freshwater management, and we’ve made good progress so far,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull. “This refresh of the regulations will further enable us to deliver on the freshwater quality that our communities deserve.”
Mayor of Nelson City Council and spokesperson for LGNZ’s Regional Sector, Rachel Reese, thanked the Government for the collaborative and open way in which it has worked with regional councils to develop the new package of reforms. Minister Parker invited the Regional Sector to put forward it's priorities for improving freshwater management and these have been taken on board in the proposal released.
“Regional and unitary councils are on the frontline when it comes to managing and regulating freshwater. One of our main challenges has been ensuring national policy direction takes better account of practical, implementation issues. The Minister has been responsive in recognising this challenge while developing a progress package of responses to improve freshwater outcomes for New Zealand,” says Ms Reese.
“We’ve advocated strongly for the changes that are needed to make real progress, which is why we’re so pleased that the Government has been open to our regulatory ideas around freshwater management.”
“This is a great example of how central government, as a policy making body, and local government, as the implementer of policy, can work together to tackle complex legacy problems like the freshwater challenge in New Zealand.”
“All New Zealanders recognise the inherent value of managing freshwater sustainably so that future generations can enjoy this priceless resource,” says Mr Cull. “It is great to see positive, practical steps being put in place to achieve this.”
LGNZ President Dave Cull told delegates at the Climate Change and Business Conference this morning that while businesses have led the charge to quantify the financial impact of climate change on their balance sheets, they need to expand their risk awareness to whether they will be able to operate at all. That’s according to LGNZ-commissioned research, whose preliminary findings suggest billions of dollars of roading, water and building infrastructure are at risk from as little as half a metre rise in sea level.
As a result, local councils and businesses will need to work closely together to develop plans to efficiently manage climate related costs and measures to maintain the viability of regional economies.
“The impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels, increased flooding, landslips or drought, may, in the future, mean your business cannot physically operate. This isn’t scaremongering, but a reminder of the harsh reality that everyone in New Zealand will have to face at some point in the future,” said Mr Cull.
He cited the examples of the east coast of the North Island where in some areas rising sea levels are threatening hundreds of homes and businesses. The Edgecumbe flood of 2017 saw 100 businesses directly affected, and required recovery assistance in excess of $700,000.
But while the science suggests that the frequency of these events is going to increase in future, Mr Cull noted that collaborative planning with communities and businesses means the negative impacts can be managed - and is already occurring right now.
In the Hawkes’ Bay area, Napier City Council, Hastings District Council and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council have developed the Clifton to Tangoio Coastal Hazard Strategy, which has seen community and business representatives identify the locations most at risk and use this to shape how their districts will develop in future.
Wellington City is undertaking a similar process with the coastal community of Makara Beach in Wellington, as well as Dunedin City Council, who have supported the development of South Dunedin’s own locally-driven Community Response Plan.
“Climate change might be a global issue, but it’s at local level where the impacts of climate change are most tangibly felt, and are being felt now, which is why we’re getting alongside our businesses and communities.”
LGNZ is set to release the full report later this year that identifies billions of dollars of local government owned assets and infrastructure exposed to sea level rise, which will have impacts on business, who utilise key roads and reticulated water supplies.
Councils also passed a remit asking LGNZ call on the Government to establish an adaptation fund to improve local level and community participation in responding to climate change. That fund, which LGNZ are developing options on, would help with the costs of adapting to climate change, unlock opportunities for collaboration across the country to adapt, and proactively address the impacts of climate change.
“Councils and businesses need to work together to ensure we’re on the front foot for climate change - the costs of doing nothing will be far greater than the costs of action ahead of time.”
LGNZ has welcomed this afternoon’s announcement from Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones of $19 million in co-funding from the Provincial Growth Fund to enable extensive 3D elevation mapping of New Zealand’s regions.
“Detailed elevation mapping of our regions is vital to unlocking the economic development of our regions. It will allow councils to more efficiently plan and develop housing, road and water infrastructure, as well as better prepare for hazards such as flooding, landslides and erosion,” says LGNZ Vice-President Stuart Crosby.
Utilising technology known as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), the data is collected by aircraft using airborne lasers to collect millions of height points, which are turned into 3D models of both the earth’s surface, including buildings and vegetation, as well as the underlying bare earth.
Coordinated by Land Information New Zealand, LiDAR far surpasses traditional topographical maps and Google maps, creating highly accurate 3D models, giving planners greater certainty.
“The funding announced today smashes the affordability problem that stopped smaller councils from investing in the topographical scans,” says Mr Crosby. “It means we will be able to extend LiDAR mapping beyond the main centres, making it cheaper for both the private and public sectors to access high quality elevation data to enable better decision making.”
Of particular interest for regional councils is the ability of the data to provide better information for environmental management.
“The data will be particularly useful for the primary sector, as it will allow for better understanding of impacts on our water catchments. It will also provide improved detail of soil mapping for better nutrient management, and comes with a much cheaper price tag than costly field surveys,” says Mr Crosby.
“In short, it means regional and provincial New Zealand will be able to tap their natural capital in smarter, more sustainable ways, and is another example of how the Provincial Growth Fund is helping to unlock the nascent potential of our regions.”
There have been plenty of examples recently showing we need to give a stronger voice to our communities, particularly in relation to local alcohol policies and gambling harm, where poorly developed central policy is preventing communities from taking action on the issues that effect them.
The Localism project aims to empower our communities, stating that decision making is best made by those closest to the communities that it effects.
The recently formed Localism Reference Group will be driving this project, through the development of a draft discussion paper, to be launched at the 2019 LGNZ Conference in July, and a localism symposium in February 2019. For more information on why localism matters, check out the two top stories from the 'In the news' section below.
Housing 2030 is progressing with two working groups; Supply, and Social and Community Housing.
In most recent activity, the Social and Community Housing Working Group formed with other sector participants to support a workshop hosted by the new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and LGNZ, and included 34 central and local government representatives, to discuss partnering to sustain and grow local government's stock of social and community housing. Additionally, the first Housing 2030 webinar, was delivered earlier in October, addressing how councils can grow and support affordable housing.
The Housing 2030 project will also be looking to have its say on the planned Urban Development Authority (UDA), which aims to boost housing supply in growth areas - watch this space.