Feedback defines critical three waters reform challenges

30 September 2021

LGNZ President Stuart Crosby is congratulating councils for the hard work put in over the past eight weeks providing feedback on the Government’s Three Waters Reform Proposal.

LGNZ President Stuart Crosby is congratulating councils for the hard work put in over the past eight weeks providing feedback on the Government’s Three Waters Reform Proposal, saying this mahi has clearly identified five key areas that need work if the model is to deliver its goals.

“Early on we negotiated with the Government through a Heads of Agreement to give councils an opportunity to provide input at this critical point in the water reforms. This has been vindicated by the high quality of the feedback that we’ve received from across the country,” said Mr Crosby.

“We knew from the start that a centrally developed model was only going to work if it included on-the-ground governance and operational insights from councils.”

Early analysis of the feedback shows five clear areas of concern:

  • Governance, accountability: The sector is concerned the proposed arms-length governance arrangements are not sufficient to ensure the Water Service Entities are accountable to communities.
  • Local voice and prioritisation: The small size of the Regional Representative Group (governance) is a challenge for councils, especially among smaller councils who fear their voice will be crowded out when setting investment priorities and plans.
  • Integration with the planning system: The parallel Resource Management reforms are creating uncertainty, and at a minimum councils will want to see the Water Service Entities “give effect” to their plans (as they exist) rather than “give consideration” to their plans.
  • Rural Water Schemes: The complexity of rural water scheme ownership and operations is creating uncertainty in many rural communities and the role of Taumata Arowai and the Water Service Entities needs to be clarified.
  • Iwi/Māori co-governance: Councils want the flexibility in the Regional Representative Group settings to ensure they can match existing relationships with mana whenua.

Over the eight-week period LGNZ supported councils’ interrogation of the reform proposal through sector webinars and zooms, and visited councils (virtually) to offer technical and policy advice and support. Overall, more than 5,000 councillors, senior staff, and specialist technical managers attended LGNZ’s various engagements (noting many members of the sector participated in numerous for a).

Mr Crosby says sector feedback has been critical in defining the issues that must be resolved – as well as potential solutions.

“The key question is whether balance sheet separation, which is a bottom line for the Government, can be achieved without so dramatically reducing control and accountability to communities and mana whenua.

“We want to see changes to the governance model that support councils’ role as the entities’ owners.

“Each council also needs a clear voice into the entity that carries sufficient weight and protects councils’ placemaking role. Communities need simple and easy mechanisms to have their say.

“And the connection between spatial planning and water planning needs to be strong and seamless.”

Mr Crosby says it is now up to Government to respond to these concerns, but notes that for the first time, the sector is genuinely working in partnership with the Government at this level of policy development to work through key concerns.

“As expected, this period has been noisy, challenging and messy – and it has got us exactly where we need to be to take this forward. Given our new partnership, we look forward seeing local and central government working collaboratively to address these issues, and ultimately put a model in front of the public that is fit for purpose in Aotearoa New Zealand.”