23 Dec 2020

Council seeks to change minds on unpopular water meters

2:43 pm on 23 December 2020

New Plymouth has signalled it wants to begin installing residential water meters next year and start charging households for water usage within four years.

New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom, left, and deputy mayor Richard Jordan.

New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom, left, and deputy mayor Richard Jordan. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The meters are included in the city's draft long-term plan which was adopted last night - a plan that is also looking to usher in a decade of steep hikes to rates.

The introduction of water meters proved hugely unpopular in a pre-consultation ahead of the draft plan and in his preamble last night, Mayor Neil Holdom knew his recommendation to include them would be controversial.

"We thought that no good LTP goes out without a significant debate so we've proposed - or, should I say, I've proposed - to put water meters in there."

His deputy, Richard Jordan, told the council its communications strategy on the meters, which would conserve water and protect the environment, had missed the mark so far.

"So that our ratepayers and consumers understand what water meters will do and what they will save us, the story will have to be very explicit and very clear.

"At the moment they're understanding that they dislike them, so we have to tell that story very well and very clearly and we are not doing that at the moment."

Councillor Harry Duynhoven was concerned low income earners would find an extra charge difficult.

"For that reason I'd like to see a basic water allocation that's not charged for and then if you are an excess water user - I think it's called exacerbators in our papers somewhere - then you pay more."

Quizzed on their merits, group manager planning and infrastructure David Langford was adamant water meters would eventually save money.

"Part of the financial business case for installing water meters is that by reducing our consumption it will avoid the need to do significant capital upgrades to our water network and we believe that potentially there could be a $40 million net saving by installing water meters over the next 30 years instead of doing those upgrades."

At $16m the investment required to install water meters was small beer compared to the big ticket item in the budget - some $300m for water infrastructure upgrades.

Warning about government action

First-term councillor Dinnie Moeahu wanted to know why council was committing so much money to something that could soon be out of its hands.

"On here it says ... 'three waters reforms'. This long-term plan assumes that council will continue to own and directly operate the waters.

"And yet by 2023 the government with sweeping legislation will be reforming our water."

The mayor said his advice from Wellington was to carry on as usual.

"We have been told we should continue with our LTPs on the basis that we own and operate these networks and should plan for them like a good owner and then be aware that in the second half of this year the government reforms will be taken out to the community and then councils will be asked to go out to their communities and they will determine whether they will opt out of the reforms."

Holdom said the status quo was not acceptable.

"We simply cannot continue to kick the can down the road. When it rained here over the last month we've been tipping raw effluent into just about every waterway we've got access to - from Ngamotu Beach to the Huatoki to the Te Henui to the Waiwhakaiho to the Waitara - and historically we've also tipped into a range of other rivers and streams and along our coast."

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The effects of heavy rain in the New Plymouth area last month. Photo: New Plymouth District Council

Councillor David Bublitz drew upon personal experience to question the council's ability to deliver on such an ambitious plan.

"About a year ago actually I made a deputation around Mangorei Road about what a stupid idea it was to put a bus stop outside my house. It still hasn't happened ... so hopefully everyone's forgotten about that."

Other big ticket items to survive the cut were a $40m investment in a multi-sports hub in New Plymouth, $26m to extend the Coastal Walkway to Waitara and $153m for transport infrastructure upgrades.

If the plan is adopted, New Plymouth ratepayers can expect a rates hike of 12 percent in its first year and 6.7 percent in each of the subsequent nine years.

Formal public consultation on the draft plan will begin in the new year.

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