1 Nov 2022

Three Waters alternative will keep infrastructure in councils' hands - mayor

12:57 pm on 1 November 2022
Toxic water running in concrete drainpipe towards the river

The crux of a new plan is maintaining council control of water infrastructure, Dan Gordon says. Photo: 123RF

Waimakariri mayor Dan Gordon says the government's Three Waters proposal is too divisive to succeed.

Gordon, Auckland mayor Wayne Brown and Christchurch mayor Phil Mauger say their new plan - unlike Three Waters - will build consensus across the country.

Their proposal, unveiled yesterday, would maintain key aspects of Three Waters, including the new water regulator, Taumata Arowai, while maintaining local ownership and allowing for what the mayors describe as meaningful roles for mana whenua.

Gordon said they hoped other mayors, local councils, Local Government NZ, the government and opposition parties would look at it.

It's been developed over the last year by consulting councils, community groups and sector experts.

"The critical aspect is that councils maintain their effective management and control and that is the crux of the issue for all our communities," Gordon told Morning Report.

"Noone's arguing that we don't want to have a water regulator in place and that we want great water quality.

"But the way this has been gone about - the entity model - has just created huge division ... there's a better way of doing this."

He said he was encouraged by the government's indication that it wanted to talk.

Gordon did not accept that much of the country's water infrastructure was mostly in a bad way under local ownership.

While investment was needed in some places, all councils had 30 to 50-year infrastructure plans for investment.

"A lot of these problems are overstated to try and sell a plan which to be honest we don't think will work."

He denied the new plan was an attempt to get rid of co-governance. He valued the relationship with mana whenua in his region even though the head of the Ngāi Tūāhuriri hapū in Canterbury, Dr Te Maire Tau, has expressed disappointment in the three councils' opposition to the government's plan.

Conversations with mana whenua should happen at local and regional levels, he said.

"I highly value my relationship with mana whenua - it's important to me and it's important to councils across the country.

"But it shouldn't be forced in the way it is proposed [by the government]."

Working together at a regional level had already started before the government came up with Three Waters.

Cost details for the new proposal were still being worked on, Gordon said, but it proposed a new water infrastructure fund managed by the Crown that councils would access.

There would also be a support fund which would address funding deficiencies for smaller councils, similar to the way Waka Kotahi operates.

There could be no assurance from the new proposal or for the government's plan that ratepayers would not face increases due to the need to pay for water infrastructure, Gordon said.

Water had become a divisive issue and the focus needed to go back on rebuilding local relationships.

"This division is not helping anyone and I don't want to see it."

Backing from Wairoa mayor

Tory Whanau

Tory Whanau. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The new proposal is already gathering support with a group of 31 councils opposing Three Waters in favour.

Wairoa mayor Craig Little said he supported the mayors' proposal because the key was ownership and local decision making.

It is estimated $28 billion needs to be spent on water infrastructure in the next 10 years, however, Little said much of that was already part of many councils' long-term plans.

He was concerned that under Three Waters, funding would not be allocated for small schemes in areas such as Wairoa.

"Wairoa will be the losers, so will every other little council."

Lack of funding was the biggest issue facing councils and the government would be wasting money forming four major entities.

"I still don't believe bigger is better."

Wellington's mayor Tory Whanau still backed the government's plan but was interested in hearing more about the alternative.

She said the new proposal was similar to how Wellington Water was operating. The council had put aside $2.6 billion in its long-term plan for water infrastructure but needed some extra funding for pipes and other work so that was why it was supporting the government's plan.

Whanau said poor communication from the government had allowed a lot of "negative rhetoric' to spread about Three Waters.

She said under Tiriti o Waitangi, there was an obligation to have mana whenua involvement in water infrastructure.

"It's a positive thing. There's been a misrepresentation out there that Māori want to grab assets ... that's absolutely not the case. I do think government needs to step up here and explain why that will be beneficial for New Zealanders."

Little said if the relationship with mana whenua needed to be enshrined in legislation, councils had it wrong - unlike his council which has 50/50 Māori and general wards, a Matangi roads board and a Māori standing committee.

"It's not about 50/50, it's about genuine relationships and partnerships."

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