Three waters reform on Council meeting agenda
Rotorua Lakes Council’s preliminary position on the Government’s current three waters reform proposal will be discussed at a meeting of the Council this week.
The Government proposes transferring three waters asset to four new water services entities (WSE) to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of service delivery.
While the council broadly agrees with the drivers for change and has already adopted infrastructure risk mitigations in its 30-year Infrastructure Strategy, it considers there are fundamental gaps in the current reform proposal that must be addressed in order to strengthen the proposal and to uphold the reform’s underlying core intentions.
At its meeting on Thursday [23 September], Council will be asked to formally endorse its preliminary position (as above) and to support council officers’ continued involvement in the reform discussions, which are being led by the Department of Internal Affair (DIA).
A report for the Council from Stavros Michael, Council’s Deputy Chief Executive Infrastructure and Environmental Solutions, details the Government’s proposals, provides a local perspective and local context, outlines considerations for the council and recommends Council communicates its preliminary position to Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta.
A proposed preliminary position paper for the Minister is included in the agenda for Council’s consideration.
The Government has released high-level discussion documents and is seeking initial views from councils and from iwi. Once it has received those initial views, Government will further develop the proposal and announce the next steps, including timeframes for consultation and decision-making.
Mr Michael notes in his report that the proposed three waters reforms constitute a major inter-generational change and full and effective community consultation will be required in order to give effect to the Council’s community services stewardship responsibilities.
However, he says at this point in time, there is not adequate Government information to allow councils to begin a properly informed special consultation process, although this is expected to be part of the next suite of Government announcements.
Mr Michael notes in his report that the broad Government drivers for the proposed three waters reform do not significantly differ from Rotorua Lakes Council’s diagnosis of the challenges facing managers of Three Waters infrastructure. These include:
- ageing physical infrastructure;
- a national legacy of chronic under-investment in network renewals, often resulting in poor asset condition;
- the ongoing introduction of higher performance standards and new regulations to better protect people’s health and the environment; the significant growth-driven investment required to support new housing;
- and the impacts of climate change and the forthcoming acute scarcity of a competent workforce.
Rotorua Lakes Council has already recognised those challenges, and put in place some appropriate planning to respond to these issues, Mr Michael notes.
The proposed reforms seek to achieve scale advantage by:
- absorbing costs over a larger population base;
- a more dedicated focus on managing risk.
- rationalising and harmonising network plans and construction standards;
- pulling together a critical mass to attract, retain and develop competent staff;
Together, these benefits of scale should, logically, lead to improved three waters services in the long term but there are gaps in the Government’s current reform proposal that must be addressed, Mr Michael says in his report.
In order to evaluate the reform effects (on the basis of information available from the Government and DIA), council staff have undertaken a high level Council Impacts Assessment which concludes that the council model is performing well for the district.
However, the report says if the status quo were retained, that would not mean no future change to the delivery or cost of services given the challenges faced including ongoing change in compliance requirements and cost increases.
The report outlines challenges and concerns for consideration including:
- The potential burden of increasing service costs if projected efficiencies cannot be achieved.
- The Government’s proposals, as they currently stand, do not provide clear confidence that Council, as the local communities’ lead agency would be able to continue to lead effective community engagement on water services, nor that the WSE will be appropriately responsive to the communities’ evolving, diverse needs and aspirations.
- The proposals have not as yet adequately addressed the possible effect on relationship commitments between Council and iwi, nor on the Crown’s existing Treaty settlements obligations.
The report says it seems possible the economic benefits of scale could easily be offset by dis-benefits, including a loss of the community voice “in the clutter of a much larger population base served by the Entity”.
“Moreover, in the absence of a clear mechanism to ensure that the mandated leadership role of local government is maintained, there is real potential for a siloed, assets-based, management approach that could be unresponsive to the unique needs of iwi and the community at large.”
The report concludes that the proposed approach “is to be supportive and constructive in the national effort towards a demonstratively viable and sustainable new three waters management framework, and it is recommended that Council adopts and communicates the preliminary reforms position paper to the Minister”.
See the full report going to Council on Thursday in the meeting agenda HERE on Council’s website. Go to p15 of the report to view the three waters report.
Due to COVID-19 Alert Level 2 restrictions, we encourage the public to view the meeting via livestream or Council's YouTube channel. Livestreaming can be accessed via THIS LINK on Council’s website or via Council’s YouTube channel HERE. The meeting starts at 9.30am.
A recording of the meeting will be available afterwards on Council’s YouTube channel.