July 04, 2021
Water reform roils local government
A Māori planner and local government expert says the Government’s proposed Three Waters reforms could hurt the viability of some local authorities and communities.
Vaughan Payne from Te Whakatōhea, who has led the Waikato Regional and Opotiki District councils, says the proposal to put water infrastructure under the control of just four large entities nationwide can lead to efficiencies in engineering and design, but he’d like to see the delivery of services remain local.
He says councils are important employers in many smaller rural communities, and losing a major part of their infrastructure business could force them to amalgamate into larger bodies.
"I come from a small community, Opotiki, and since the 1980s we've had a lot of local organisations, whether it's the banks, the post office, hospitals, those sort of things all close, and if you end up with your local council closing it is a cumulative effect on communities including Māori communities, of losing their voice and representation," Mr Payne says.
He says it’s important the water authorities include Māori representation.
Meanwhile, Whangārei wants to keep its water infrastructure.
Mayor Sheryl Mai says the council’s billion dollars of water assets are up to date, well managed and debt-free.
She doesn’t want to see those assets going into a larger entity with different spending priorities when the Government has other ways to achieve its objectives of improving water quality.
"Government has introduced a regulator, Taumata Arowai. The whole local government sector supports that. If you're regulating and holding councils to account, tighten up the rules, ensure that treatment plants if they are discharging to water for example, that it's treated to very high quality, much as we do in our district," Ms Mai says.
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