18 Oct 2022

PM, minister respond to Wayne Brown's call for Three Waters work to stop

8:30 pm on 18 October 2022
Wayne Brown

Photo: RNZ / Lucy Xia

An environmental engineer is urging Wayne Brown not to throw out the baby with the bathwater as the incoming mayor attempts to squash Three Waters Reform.

Yesterday, Brown asked Watercare to stop spending its resources on preparations for the reforms, which he called a "doomed" proposal.

His hope was for the planning money to be diverted and "returned to Auckland households in the form of lower water charges and rates".

But Ministerof Local Government Nanaia Mahuta said the government's plan would bring down Aucklanders' rates in the long term.

"Having a solution around waters infrastructure to reduce the cost impost on ratepayers I thought would've been a positive," she said.

LDR reported that, speaking to industry representatives at a Water NZ Conference in Christchurch, Mahuta said this was "a once in a lifetime opportunity" to transform the way water services were delivered.

Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is due to meet incoming Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown on Thursday. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hoped she could find common ground with Brown on the divisive issue when they meet later this week.

"I would hope that there are some areas of shared ambition, and shared concern," she said.

"A big focus for the government is making sure we don't have significant rates increases because we have not managed water infrastructure."

University of Auckland environmental engineering professor Lokesh Padhye said maintaining the status quo was not an option.

Other countries were far ahead of New Zealand in terms of water infrastructure, prof Padhye said.

"It's based on some of the facts, which are quite evident for anyone working in the water industry," he said.

"Our water infrastructure is clearly lagging behind - we have a number of issues with drinking water, wastewater, and storm water."

The lack of reforms had caused Auckland's rates to increase, prof Padhye said.

"We are seeing our water bills going up, and that's primarily because of the advanced treatment [facilities] they've had to install for treating more polluted water.

"So things like that increase the cost."

Waikato River

Waikato River is one of New Zealand's most polluted waterways, says University of Auckland environmental engineering professor Lokesh Padhye. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Waikato River was one of the country's most polluted waterways, driving up treatment costs to keep it drinkable, he said.

Former Watercare liaison councillor Linda Cooper opposed the plan, but disapproved of Brown's approach.

At the end of the day, the mayor would not have a choice, Cooper said.

"It's clickbait policy, it's playing to the angry crowd.

"When you're in local government, legislation trumps everything. If the minister says 'you do this,' you do it."

Ardern said the Three Waters Reform was in Aucklanders' best interests.

"The modelling shows that without this water reform, Auckland ratepayers would pay more.

"I hope we have a shared ambition to prevent that."

Ardern planned to meet with Brown on Thursday.

Nanaia Mahuta

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta says there will be more chances for people to have a say on the Three Waters proposal. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Mahuta also said thousands of submissions have been received on the Water Services Entities Bill and a report was due to be presented to Cabinet next month, LDR reported.

It was just the first step in reform and there would be more opportunities for the Three Waters sector and the wider public to have a say, she said.

Management of Three Waters infrastructure was due to pass from the 67 councils throughout the country to four new water entities, under the industry regulator Taumata Arowai on 1 July, 2024.

Legislation would be presented to Parliament later this year to set out the functions and powers of the four new entities, Mahuta said.

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