Major Concerns with Uncertainty Surrounding Three Waters Reform
Waimate District Mayor Craig Rowley says there are simply too many unanswered questions when it comes to the Government’s Three Waters Reform Programme, and on behalf of Council, is calling for more honest and clear information.
The Government is in the middle of reforming local government's three waters services into a small number of multi-regional entities, with the review itself commencing in 2017.
Earlier this month, the Water Industry Commission for Scotland (WICS) completed a report on behalf of the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) that considered 30 scenarios for amalgamation, ranging from a possible 13 entities across the country to just one.
In response to those findings, Mayor Rowley says the Council hold serious concerns with the validity of data and evidence being presented, pointing out Scotland does not compare with New Zealand – particularly rural South Island.
“There’s a real lack of information that has been forthcoming from the DIA and Central Government, and at this point there’s just too many unknowns,” Mayor Rowley said.
“As a Council, we’re extremely concerned with the timeframes that have been placed around this process - first coming off the back of a once in a generation global pandemic and second, the extreme pressure and resources called on under time critical deadlines.
“We want to see some transparency and honesty around the delivery of the service and the costs associated with it, and until that time, the ratepayers are only getting one side of the story.”
Later this year, Council’s across the country will need to decide whether to ‘opt-out’ of the Government’s three waters reform, though with so many details not yet known, Mayor Rowley says ratepayers deserve to know the facts before having to make any significant decision.
“For example, what does the transition look like and what’s involved? What’s the consequences of opting-out, will it be mandatory or not? The Minister (Nanaia Mahuta) has been asked these questions directly by other Mayors and the response has never been forthcoming,” he said.
“Time is running out and ultimately we want to inform our ratepayers, ensuring they understand exactly what this reform will mean and the direct and indirect impacts they may or may not have.
Essentially, this should be a decision that our communities decide on, therefore it’s vital they are presented with all of the information, not just that of a one-sided campaign to push through the reform.”
In the coming weeks and months, Central Government will start rolling out their “case for change” through the media, suggesting the recent report findings confirm the need for ‘urgent and major reform’.
But with more than $70M of three water assets on the line for the Waimate District, Mayor Rowley is urging ratepayers to be alert to misleading information and campaign jargon.
“It’s about keeping your ear to the ground and keeping your eyes wide open. We’ll continue to call for more answers and once we have them, we’ll be able to inform our communities and help them to understand what a very complex issue it is at present,” Mayor Rowley said.
“They (Central Government) are pushing a ‘case for change’, whereas as a Council, we are saying we have a ‘case for improvement’. At this stage, we’d certainly be reluctant to say we can deliver the three waters services better than the agencies could, however right now, what does better actually look like and can they honestly deliver on what they’re suggesting they can?
“Again, we just don’t know and it’s time we were all given the full picture.”
Following public consultation, the Government are expected to make their decision later this year in relation to continuing with the reform, or discussing further alternatives.
QUICK FACTS/AREAS OF CONCERN
- Whilst Scotland and New Zealand have similar populations (5.46M v 5.11M), NZ has 3.44 times the land area of Scotland. This difference is even greater in the South Island where the population is 1.04M (1/5 of Scotland), but the land area is 1.93 times that of Scotland
- For rural and provincial South Island, the difference is even more stark – excluding the greater Christchurch and Dunedin urban populations leaves a remaining South Island population of 433,000 inhabiting 145,000 km2, at a population density of 3 per km2, compared with Scotland’s average of 70 per km2
- This population density difference has caused quite different settlement patterns, with typically much larger distances between settlements in the South Island. This in turn impacts infrastructure deployment patterns, relative costs of infrastructure and restricts the potential asset level optimisation scale and efficiency gains that were available to Scotland
- Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has refused to answer simple questions such as; will this reform be mandatory?, what is the consequence of opting-out and what does this transition look like, should it go ahead?