by Geoffrey Churchman
In July I attended a 4-hour seminar in Wellington, one of several around the country that the Dept of Internal Affairs organised.
About 100 local authority people were there including a few from Kapiti.
Details of the proposal can be seen here, but in a nutshell it is for a central authority, Taumata Arowai, to take charge of all local council Drinking Water, Wastewater and Stormwater infrastructure ostensibly so that substantially more money can be spent on on it than has been so far, overall. It means councils handing over these assets to this authority.
On his Facebook page, Cr Gwynn Compton provides this straightforward summary:
No-one is going to turn down an offer of free money and as expected, today the KCDC agreed to sign up to the Memorandum of Understanding as it means the handout mentioned (which needs to actually be spent on water infrastructure) but without the commitment to go any further with the scheme in about a year from now.
My feeling is that there is a mix of good intentions and questionable ideology on the part of the government. The ideological problems include removing localism and the creation of centralised bureaucracy.
Drinking water involves two big controversies — water meters and fluoridation. We were told at the seminar that there will be no driving of water metering by Taumata Arowai. In break-out sessions, the table that I sat at had 5 Wellington City Council people — including the Chief Executive and three councilors — and as readers know, the WCC does not have water meters. Needless to say, I encouraged them to keep it that way, with which they seemed to agree. The alleged benefits promoted by regular KCDC media releases have simply been propaganda to soothe the widespread hostility by ratepayers. Helping in the process of finding and fixing leaks on private property is really the only benefit that can be pointed to.
Not all local councils fluoridate their water: in Kapiti those who get their supply from the Waikanae Treatment Plant — being those who live in Waikanae Paparaumu and Raumati — get fluoridated water, but not those in Otaki and Paekakariki. My view is that water should not be fluoridated as it removes individual choice, and while for most people it is fairly harmless, that’s not true for everybody.
There was also a distinct lack of enthusiasm by the WCC people for the new government set-up proposals, too. One objection is that efficient managers will effectively be subsidizing the inefficient ones.
Below is a subsequent mail from the organisers of the seminars:
The central/local government joint *Three Waters Steering Committee would like to thank you for your participation in the recent Three Waters workshops. We appreciate the time you took to attend and the valuable knowledge and expertise you contributed through the discussion. This will continue to be important as the Three Waters Reform Programme progresses.
As you will know, in July Prime Minister Hon Jacinda Ardern and Local Government Minister Hon Nanaia Mahuta announced a $761 million fund for Three Waters recovery stimulus and reform.
This series of workshops was designed to support councils to understand what they would need to do to receive the stimulus and reform funding, what they were signing up to, and what they could spend their allocation on. They are the first of ongoing discussions the Steering Committee will have with you on this programme.
Feedback from the workshops
Today the Committee held the final of 14 workshops in this initial round of conversations. Around 1050 elected members, council staff, and iwi/hapū representatives have attended the workshops across the country and contributed to this important discussion during the last three weeks.
Feedback from the workshops has informed our guidance documents on the funding (see below), and we have collected a large number of questions and considerations for the Steering Committee to work through as we progress through this work.
We are working at pace to produce a report on the workshops that will provide insight on questions that can be answered at this stage, and line of sight on how/when outstanding questions and considerations will be addressed as the programme progresses. We aim to make this report available to you shortly.
Announcement on Funding Allocations
During the workshops a core question was around the allocation of funding to councils. On 4 August 2020, the Minister of Local Government, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, announced the regional allocations of the stimulus and reform funding. You can view this announcement here: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/government-announces-allocation-three-waters-funds-councils. The individual council allocations can be found here: https://www.dia.govt.nz/diawebsite.nsf/Files/Three-waters-reform-programme/$file/Notional-Funding-Allocations.pdf
We also received feedback on support councils need to consider the Memorandum of Understanding, Funding Agreement and Delivery Plan. This has informed guidance material provided to Mayors, Chairs and Chief Executives in conjunction with the allocation announcement and is now available on the Three Waters Reform Programme website: https://www.dia.govt.nz/Three-Waters-Reform-Programme. We will continue to update this website with information as it is available.
In addition, the Steering Committee has written to Mayoral Forum Chairs with the guidance on the regional allocation, and SOLGM have hosted two further webinars for Chief Executives, Financial Officers and legal teams.
Long Term Plans
Many territorial authorities have raised questions regarding the potential implications of the reform proposals for the next long-term planning cycle. The Steering Committee intends to provide some guidance on that.
Ongoing conversations and engagement, including with iwi, hapū and Māori
If at this stage we are unable to answer a number of your questions, this is because there is a great deal of work ahead of us to understand and explore, in partnership, a range of technical, legal, commercial and social issues. This reflects the early stage we are at in this project, and the genuine commitment from the Steering Committee to work with you in the design process for reform.
As noted in the workshops, the Crown’s formal engagement with iwi, hapū and Māori groups will begin in the coming months with targeted engagement, in conjunction with Taumata Arowai. The reform of three waters service delivery is likely to present a range of Treaty interests which will need to be identified and explored as part of the reform programme. It is important these are well understood and that the work of the Steering Committee is informed by this relationship throughout the reform programme.
We look forward having ongoing discussions with you as this work progresses.
Ngā mihi, Three Waters Steering Committee