Canterbury's civic leaders call for Government to slow down its water reforms

The Government is proposing sweeping water reforms.
Stuff
The Government is proposing sweeping water reforms.

Canterbury’s local government leaders are concerned about the pace and urgency of the Government’s water reforms and are calling for the process to be slowed down.

About 180 people from councils and iwi across wider Canterbury attended a Government-led day-long workshop in Christchurch on Tuesday​ to talk about proposals that would hand over responsibility for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater to new mega-regional entities.

Waimakariri mayor Dan Gordon said most people at the workshop were concerned about the proposed timetable.

“There is insufficient time to properly consider the reforms. I don’t understand the urgency.”

READ MORE:
* Auckland councillor concerned about bigger bills amid water reforms
* Government cut $239m from proposed $1 billion water bailout fund for councils
* Canterbury's mayors put their views forward in Timaru
* Bill to fix ailing water infrastructure could hit $50 billion over 30 years

The Government was expected to announce detailed reform proposals mid-year and councils would have until the end of the year to make decisions about whether to opt out. The Government has said it would not be compulsory for councils to join the new entities.

Gordon said the process needed to be slowed right down to ensure the information, yet to be provided, has had due consideration and communities were able to have their say.

Gordon said these concerns appeared to be falling on deaf ears.

Waimakariri mayor Dan Gordon says he does not understand the Government’s urgency to push through its water reforms.
Joseph Johnson/Stuff
Waimakariri mayor Dan Gordon says he does not understand the Government’s urgency to push through its water reforms.

He believed the lead-up to Christmas was the worst time to consult communities. He was also concerned about the pressure and stress it put on staff who were already working at pace to meet tight time frames on shovel ready and stimulus projects.

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel echoed Gordon’s concerns.

“There is very little time to assess the model that they will propose.”

She said all the material to support public consultation would not be available until August and to make a decision before the end of the year was “massive pressure”.

“We don’t really understand the impacts on individual councils and communities – both metro and rural. There were a lot of unanswered questions in this regard.

“We really felt the pace of reform.”

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel says there is very little time for councils to assess the Government’s proposed model.
Joseph Johnson/Stuff
Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel says there is very little time for councils to assess the Government’s proposed model.

Selwyn mayor Sam Broughton said there was a lot more information to come before the district came to any recommendations on what was the best outcome for its residents.

The Government’s three waters reform steering group independent chairman, Brian Hanna,​ said Tuesday’s workshop provided some good feedback, which would be taken on board as the group considered its advice to Cabinet.

He admitted there was a lot of angst in the room because it was such a major reform.

Councils would be provided with individualised analysis mid-year along with information to support community discussion and decision-making, he said.

The Government was proposing to introduce the new entities in mid-2022 before the local government elections in October that year.

The reforms came in the wake of the 2016 Havelock North contamination that left 5000 people ill, with four related deaths.

All 67 councils were voluntarily participating in the reform programme at the moment, after receiving a share of $761 million to help upgrade water infrastructure and services.

A new water services regulator, Taumata Arowai, was expected to take charge of the reform programme in the second half of this year.

Stuff