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Frontpage News - April 2021

Strong, fit-for-purpose local government is the future for New Zealand

Kia ora koutou katoa, 

With major reforms in the pipeline across three waters, climate change and resource management our sector is facing systemic change at a fundamental level. 

Regardless of the pros and cons of any of the reforms, each of them has the potential to radically change the way councils operate and the way community voices are heard. 

That’s why we're asking central government to see the reforms holistically and include a positive and opportunity based conversation that looks at the future for local government as a whole. 

A conversation that leads to a strong, thriving sustainable local government with local democracy paramount. One that is also enabled to play an even greater part in our economic, social, cultural and environmental well-beings.  We already do that well, we can do even more of it – and our communities need it.  

When you couple the reform with ongoing issues facing many of our communities, such as housing shortages, climate change and poor infrastructure, there is the very potential to leverage the impact and reach of local government to play a major part in solving many of these pressing problems.  We are, after all, the part of the system of government that’s closest to our communities.

Our communities are also all passionate about their towns, cities and regions, and want a real say on their development and future. We only need to look at our local newspapers or community social media to see that.

Local government is key enabler of this public voice and passion.  This is one of the great things about local government. Beyond the local election and planning cycles, there are so many opportunities for public engagement and input, all of which determine the look, feel and functionality of the places we love. We build places to celebrate and communities that thrive.

This local choice and voice is an important part of local democracy, and one that LGNZ works hard to protect.

A key question that needs addressing as these reforms proceed is how can we continue to enable local voice, while also providing the some of the benefits of some of the reform.

As the level of government closest to our communities, it’s a conversation that we should naturally be leading.   We want to do this  through a future for local government programme that we can all have a say in. 

Ngā mihi nui, 

Susan Freeman-Greene
Chief Executive

Water Services Bill puts ratepayers on the hook for failing private supplies

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) has presented to the Health Select Committee on the Water Services Bill, raising serious concerns about a flood of costs for ratepayers if councils are forced to take over failing private water supplies.

Presenting to the Committee, LGNZ President Stuart Crosby said that while the sector supports the intent of the Bill, having advocated for clear drinking water standards and strong enforcement of those standards since 2015, there was the potential for a huge passing of costs onto councils, as the Bill would force councils to take over private water networks that fail to meet the standard.

A water network, as defined in the Bill, is any two or more households that share a drinking water supply.  Networks that fall under the new regulatory regime would have to meet stringent water testing requirements and compile and regularly update a technical water services plan.

“We’ve been asking for clear drinking water standards and strong regulation since before the Havelock North contamination, so we’re pleased to see this Bill deliver them, but unfortunately it overreaches by creating a situation where ratepayers will have to pick up the cost private water suppliers can’t meet the drinking water standards.

Modelling from both the Government and LGNZ shows that councils are already be in line for significant costs to make sure their drinking-water facilities meet the drinking water standards. 

The unfunded mandate presented by the new Bill could make that even more difficult if councils are put on the hook for the private, non-council supplies that serve between 800,000 and a million New Zealanders.

“Councils have limited resources which need to be focused on community-owned and operated supplies in the first instance,” continued Mr Crosby.

“Small suppliers won’t be encouraged to bring their supplies up to the required standard, knowing that the wider community will eventually be forced to pick up the tab.  What you also might see is the issue of small, low socio-economic ratepayer bases subsidising the drinking and wastewater costs of relatively well-off people who move into remote areas to enjoy the lifestyle.”

LGNZ have also raised the issue that the new bill would exacerbate the housing shortage, as councils would be highly cautious when assessment developments that include their own community water networks.

“It’s a bit like the current joint and several liability setting that councils suffer in building consenting – councils face a  disproportionate risk that forces them to be them to be very careful when assessing any further private networks, because if the supply can’t meet the standards, through no fault of the council, ratepayers will be on the liable.” 

“The Government needs to be clear on whether it wants to enable small schemes and communities going forward, or whether it wants to limit growth to where council-owned networks exist.”

Kudos for council using report to drive improvement for ratepayers

Ruapehu District Council has become one of a handful of councils to receive a second CouncilMARK™ report, and have been lauded by the programme’s Independent Assessment Board for the way they have used the first report to drive improvement for ratepayers.

CouncilMARK™ is an independent assessment programme that assesses how councils are performing and is designed to support individual councils to improve the service and value they provide.  Councils receive an overall performance rating from the Independent Assessment Board (IAB), from C to AAA, as well as commentary on their performance across four key areas.  The reports are designed to be easy to read and understand.

In awarding the council a BBB rating, up from a BB in 2017, the IAB highlighted improvement in their leadership and financial decision-making, but also called out a need to address aging infrastructure in the face of increasing drinking water and environmental standards.

“The first thing we saw in Ruapehu is that both the council and community have got very strong leaders in Mayor Don Cameron and Chief Executive Clive Manley,” said IAB Chair Toby Stevenson.

“They are genuinely motivated to make a positive impact on the lives of their residents, and their strong working relationships with each other, council staff, elected members and residents is a testament to that.”

“Their leadership will be vital in addressing some of the issues that the report finds, particularly around renewing aging three waters infrastructure.”

“It’s a four pronged fork where the infrastructure needs attention, national environmental and other standards are rising, community expectations are high, but resources are relatively limited.  So the council will need to strike a balance in addressing each of these factors in its asset management work.”

“This CouncilMARK™ report will help to focus their attention on how they address infrastructure renewal, but at the same time it affirms that the council is doing a lot well, particularly around community services, managing debt, financial reporting and enabling housing solutions.”

LGNZ President Stuart Crosby gave the council kudos for undertaking the assessment, to provide the council, residents and ratepayers with a clear picture of where they’re succeeding and where more attention is needed.

“The way Ruapehu has approached the CouncilMARK™ programme is a great example for other councils,” said LGNZ President Stuart Crosby.

“The council joined the programme because they wanted to gain an independent review of their services and offering to the community, and then to use the findings to deliver improved services for ratepayers.”

“The report has confirmed that they’re doing a lot of things very well, but like other councils, the combination of aging infrastructure, rising standards and limited resources is challenging.” 

“We are confident that with the right support, both from central government and LGNZ, that Ruapehu will rise to meet this challenge, as well as others such as affordable and social housing,” concluded Mr Crosby.

Opportunity to lift freedom camping burden from ratepayers welcomed

Local Government New Zealand welcomes the long overdue review of self-contained freedom camping rules announced by Tourism Minister Stuart Nash .

“Many councils across the country welcome the contribution freedom campers make to local economies,” said LGNZ President Stuart Crosby.  “However, since the National-led Government changed the legislation to enable freedom camping for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, we’ve been struggling to manage the impact some campers have on the environment and council budgets.”

“That’s why we support this review – it’s not about banning freedom camping or being a kill joy, but enabling this activity in a way that respects our communities and environment.”

Rotorua Lakes Mayor Steve Chadwick has been pivotal in engaging with central government on tourism as a co-chair of the Responsible Camping Working Group, a member of Tiaki – Care for New Zealand, and more recently as co-chair of the Tourism Futures Taskforce.

As the mayor of a popular tourist destination, she notes that while the majority of campers are responsible campers, regulation is needed to address poor behaviour at the fringe.

“The majority of responsible campers do the right thing by having self-contained vehicles, disposing of their waste in the right way, and aren’t going out of their way to burden anyone,” said Mayor Chadwick.

“But as the Minister has pointed out, our system means that someone has to carry the cost, and that’s often ratepayers, and additionally there are those who aren’t abiding by our Tiaki values.  This consultation is important in setting out the boundaries to address these issues.” 

“We will be interested in the allocation of resource to enforce any new regulations, as that shouldn’t be another burden on our ratepayers, who see none of the GST or other taxation benefits, but carry the regulatory costs.” 

“It’s not about campers paying more, it’s about them taking care of their own social, cultural and environmental impacts, by having their vehicles and gear up-to-scratch.  We think that this can be a win-win situation for everyone.”

Latest CME report shows massive scale of Regional Council regulatory work

The third Compliance, Monitoring and Enforcement (CME) Metrics report has been released, providing insight into one of New Zealand’s biggest regulatory systems, with year on year comparisons revealing an increase in the number of complaints both responded to and attended in person by regional council staff.

Commissioned by Local Government New Zealand’s Regional Sector and based on a survey conducted across all regional and unitary councils, the report aims to provide insight and improvement to CME delivery, and share best practice across the sector.

“This is a report by councils, for councils, to drive improvement in what is one of New Zealand’s biggest regulatory systems,” said Horizons Regional Council Chief Executive Michael McCartney.

“It’s really staggering how much work our regional councils get through, whether delivering consents, monitoring them, working with landowners and industry to ensure they’re being adhered to, and taking enforcement action against those who aren’t following the rules.”

Regional and unitary councils across New Zealand administer over 250,000 resource consents each year. In 2019/2020, the sector undertook almost 64,000 assessments of over 41,000 consents.  Both the number of consents monitored and the number of assessments completed increased by approximately 13,000 when compared to the previous year.

“In the 2019 to 2020 financial year, CME staff attended over 32,000 complaints and incidents in person.  That really shows the amount of resource, time and effort that regional councils are putting in on the ground,” said Mr McCartney.

“Prior to these reports, the sector identified the need for greater consistency and for best practice across resource management regulation.  These reports are a powerful way to achieve that.”

The sector achieved 99.2% national response rate in the most recent reporting year, demonstrating continual improvement over each of the past three reports. There were also over 7,000 individual enforcement actions taken for breaches of the Resource Management Act.

“Regional councils have a huge breadth of work, and it’s only getting bigger as a range of new central government regulations come into effect across freshwater, biodiversity and resource management.

“Given the increasing volume of work, it’s vital that regional councils are looking closely at where and how we can improve, and this report helps greatly with this,” concluded Mr McCartney.

New Zealand has 16 regional and unitary councils, whose role is primarily concerned with Aotearoa’s environment and managing our land, air, coast and water resources.  These councils are also responsible for biodiversity, regional parks, flood protection, emergency management and regional transport.

To view the CME report, please visit www.lgnz.co.nz/regionals/reports

Over 170 scientists, researchers, local government elected members and officials gathered recently at the LGNZ Climate Change Adaptation Symposium. Discussions uncovered gaps in New Zealand’s adaptation policy and canvassed how the sector can find shared interim solutions while it awaits the Government’s impending resource management reform. 

Sponsored by the Deep South National Science Challenge, areas of discussion included gaps in current adaptation policy, decision making in uncertain times, Māori approaches to climate change adaptation, scientific adaptation efforts concerning flood mapping and access to river data and a new report on how Land Information Memoranda (LIM) changes could serve to better communicate hazard information.

Video of the discussions can be found here.

Climate symposium finds gaps in national adaptation armour

“Local government has always seen itself on the frontline in the battle against the effects of climate change, whether it is from the angle of mitigation or adaptation,” said LGNZ vice-president, Whanganui Mayor, and symposium keynote speaker Hamish McDouall.

“This role was confirmed by the Climate Change Commission in its draft report, which is why we have pulled together leading thinkers to help shape our actions on the ground, and around the council table.”

“The symposium was an opportunity to look at the tools we’ve got - whether the resources we have or the legislation we act under - and as a group try and figure out what we need from the upcoming climate change adaptation and resource management reform.”

“The difference with this symposium was that a huge number of on-the-ground action takers were in attendance.  They live and breathe the work of protecting people from natural hazards.  They’re the people delivering resilient infrastructure, engaging with communities, making decisions and doing the modelling on the increasing array of severe weather events exacerbated by climate change.”

The release of LGNZ’s LIM Report detailed just how difficult it is for councils to get hold of fit-for-purpose tool that can inform better decision-making on adapting to climate change.

“The LIM Report is a microcosm of the policy challenge that local government faces,” continued Mr McDouall.

“We were interested in whether a new LIM template could be a good way to disclose natural hazard information in the short term, before the new RM reform kicks in.”

“The report shows that 20th century tools are not fit for purpose when it comes to 21st century challenges. That sets a clear direction for policy makers – we need to stop tinkering around the edges and develop new tools to tackle a monumental issue like climate change. Yes, the RM Reforms process is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done if we’re to tackle this problem head on.” 

“Climate change is a national issue and it needs national legislation and funding tools to address it,” Mr McDouall concluded.

Second CouncilMARK™ report shows improvement for Masterton ratepayers

Masterton district ratepayers should be pleased with the results of a second report into their council’s performance, says the chair of local government assessors CouncilMARK™, particularly in the critical areas of service delivery and asset management, and ratepayers are being encouraged to pick up the report to find out more about their council’s operations.

CouncilMARK™ is an independent assessment programme that assesses how councils are performing and is designed to support individual councils to improve the service and value they provide.  Councils receive an overall performance rating from the Independent Assessment Board (IAB), from C to AAA, as well as commentary on their performance across four key areas.

The latest report, based on an assessment at the end of 2020, has seen the council earn a strong ‘BBB’ rating, following an initial report in 2017 where the council received a ‘BB’ rating.

“Masterton District Council commissioned the first report in 2017 as a way to benchmark their performance and provide a clear view of where improvements could be made for the community,” says IAB Chair Toby Stevenson.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘we want to improve,’ and another to set out and actually do it.  It’s not easy, but Masterton District Council and their new chief executive have driven real improvement, particularly in the areas of asset management, service delivery and communication with residents and ratepayers.”

“Investment into three waters, roads, and other key assets is a hot topic around the country.  Since their first report, Masterton has developed a joined up approach between its financial strategy and asset development, and a group to oversee this work, which greatly reduces the chance of any surprises for ratepayers on the condition and funding of their assets.”

“That’s not to say there aren’t challenges in asset management.  The report identifies a need for the council to increase spending on their assets, through the functions established off the back of the previous CouncilMARK™ report.”

The report also finds that the council’s communication with residents and ratepayers has improved over the last three years, in both directions, through digital channels, community media and face to face forums and meetings.

“Since 2017 the conversation between residents, ratepayers and the council has strengthened into an active two-way dialogue, and that’s evidenced through the 1,300 responses the council received on the future of the town hall, their growing social media presence and the well-formed content in the Monthly Wrap and commentary which features in their local paper.”

“On top of that, direct regular meetings with resident and ratepayer groups, the appointment of iwi representatives, and a growing Youth Council mean that there are good forums for people to engage with the council.  We hope that the council takes on feedback to continue to develop these relationships, particularly with local iwi.”

In delivering the report, the assessment team noted that although a proposed amalgamation of the three Wairarapa councils failed in late 2017, it was important that the area councils worked together to achieve economies of scale. 

“It’s clear that a sizeable proportion of the community would like to see better collaboration between Carterton, Masterton and South Wairarapa District Councils, and they are continuing to explore this, particularly through agreements with Greater Wellington Regional Council, to maximise value through a shared approach,” concluded Mr Stevenson.

LGNZ welcomes well-rounded housing package

Local Government New Zealand welcomes a well-rounded housing announcement by the Government, saying it is a necessary intervention to cool our out of control housing market while longer term and more sustainable policy fixes are put in place.

“The announcement will be welcomed by communities across New Zealand, who have been locked out of the home ownership by property speculators taking advantage of historically low interest rates,” says LGNZ president Stuart Crosby.

“It’s also addresses a broader issue, of a generation of renters who are at risk of being pushed out of their accommodation and into social and emergency housing, by shifts in the market.  There is no community in New Zealand who finds this acceptable.”

“We also welcome the announcement of a $3.8 billion Housing Acceleration Fund.  For councils, infrastructure is key to releasing land for development, but the rates based funding system has never been up to the task in the face of high population growth.”

“This no-strings attached fund has the potential to break that deadlock in the short to medium term, while longer term measures to address housing affordability, such as the resource management reforms, are put in place and bedded in.”

“LGNZ and our members are working proactively with the Government to advance other policy fixes and quick wins in the housing space, recognising that we can’t continue to operate in a siloed local government versus central government fashion as we have in the past,” concluded Mr Crosby.

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