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As more and more district and regional councils oppose the controversial three-water reform, the frustrated mayor told the prime minister that her government had “lost people” because of the proposed water restructuring.
And the mayor of another council, Hawke’s Bay, doubled his earlier criticism of how the process was handled, calling it “terrible.”
The Cabinet of Ministers is currently considering 47 recommendations made by an independent working group of 20 local government officials and iwi on the government’s proposed water reforms.
Under the plan, which will affect all New Zealand district and regional councils, control of New Zealand’s drinking, storm and sewage systems can be transferred from councils to four regional bodies.
This proposal led to the creation of the opposition group “Communities 4 Local Democracy”, which includes 31 district and city councils. Large “Stop Three Waters” billboards have also been set up by farmers on their land across New Zealand.
The councils that have joined the group include the Central Hawke’s Bay District Council (CHBDC), whose mayor Alex Walker wrote to Arderna late last year “with sadness” about the reform program.
In a letter that, along with other internal documents to discuss Three Waters reform, was published by the council, she wrote that the Central Hawke’s Bay community was “one of the most informed in the country when it comes to regulatory and financial issues related to providing Three Waters ». Water infrastructure “.
She said the CHBDC has been “managing a strategy called #thebigwasterstory” since 2017 and has tripled its investment in the area during that time.
He also implemented a further strategy called Conflict of Facts, which the council considered in consultation with the community and “adopted the largest investment program in our wastewater treatment system that this community has ever seen”.
The CHBDC has also worked with neighboring councils on a number of water initiatives.
But Walker wrote to Arderna: “But despite this, Prime Minister, I am sad to say that you have lost people on your path of reforming the three waters.
“Even in my community, which has perceived the problems, they are offended by the change in property rights and the scale of the proposed changes. They do not see how their interests will be protected and who will defend them.”
Walker also told Ardern that elected CHBDC representatives were still “not convinced” that the reforms would “improve all aspects of society’s well-being.”
On October 27, Local Government Minister Nanah Mahuta said the three-water reform process would be mandatory for all councils.
The document on the agenda of the extraordinary meeting of the CHBDC states that the government “previously promised” that under the signed Memorandum of Understanding the councils will be able to join the process or abandon it.
“The minister’s statement has been extremely frustrating for many mayors and councils, and many members of the community have also expressed their dissatisfaction,” the statement said.
“The mayors of a number of councils have met informally to express their ideas on what they are doing to oppose this proposal.”
It adds: “Most councils agree that quality drinking water and better environmental performance are important, but some have a real difference of opinion with the current government over the structural decision.
“For these reasons, those councils that disagree with the government and want opportunities to unite to oppose the government on behalf of their communities.”
In a letter to Mahuta, signed by Walker and CHBDC CEO Monique Davidson, the couple wrote that after an eight-week evaluation of Three Waters, they believe the reforms are “polarizing and causing a number of emotions in our community.”
“The Council therefore believes that the government should adequately consult with the New Zealand public before the reform package can be advanced through the selected committee process.”
The couple wrote that the government had provided “insufficient information” on how the reform process would work, and said the proposals were also “too important” to prevent payers from speaking out.
They also expressed “concern” that “the financial complexity of the proposed reform packages was not fully understood or made public by the government.”
Another mayor in the Greater Hawke’s Bay region, Craig Little of Vairoa County Council, has also strengthened his opposition to Three Waters, describing it as “shocking”.
Little told the Herald among the things he and his community opposed were the forced transfer of assets and infrastructure for which she paid.
He also believed that the scale of the clean water problem, as Three Waters supporters said, was “greatly exaggerated”.
“The whole process is wrong,” Little said.
“They just take us by rail. What we can’t do is advance. But they did it [with Three Waters] right from day one. This is not the way forward.
“It was a terrible process.”
The Vairoa District Council is a member of the 4 Local Democracy Communities.
Little also criticized, in his view, the poor level of communication about reforms.
He was still waiting for answers to questions given to Mahuta last year.
He also called a “joke” a TV commercial promoting the reforms, adding that “if we do, we will be finished out of town.”
Nearly 50 complaints were filed with the Office of Advertising Standards for Advertising.
Mahuta admitted that the TV campaign was wrong. The $ 3.5 million ads strongly blamed a number of water failures.
“There was a lot of caution on the part of the local authorities around this campaign because they felt they were being blamed for something and I admit that decades of underinvestment in water infrastructure are within the remit of the board, but perhaps the advertising campaign was not the best way to convey the message, ”she told Q&A.
Among the recommendations of the independent working group “Three Waters” was the need for a new communication campaign based on the “need for change”.
He also called for the appointment of a water ombudsman to oversee the interaction of water entities with water users.
It was also recommended to create a state share structure to preserve state ownership of water assets.
Mahuta said the cabinet would now “carefully consider” the recommendations.
“We know it’s important to make this reform right for every New Zealander,” she said.
“We strive to ensure that local councils continue to play a vital role in the three waters, representing the interests of their communities at the highest level of each new water service organization together with mana whenua and owning these organizations on behalf of their communities.
“The ongoing process is designed to ensure that the wealth of experience and local knowledge of Three Waters gained by local authorities is passed on to new actors and that these new water service providers are accountable and responsive to local communities.”