Government should withdraw the proposed legislation for its water reform programme and take the time to find a more acceptable solution.
Government’s reform timeline is unrealistic, governance arrangements risk undoing years of strategic planning, and ratepayers could be left carrying the cost of unfunded overhead in the wake of the reform.
Those were the blunt messages delivered by Hamilton Mayor Paula Southgate and Councillor Angela O’Leary yesterday (5 September) in support of Hamilton City Council’s formal submission to the Parliamentary Finance and Expenditure Select Committee.
Council approved a comprehensive submission on the Water Services Entities Bill in July this year, authorising Mayor Southgate, and Cr O’Leary (Infrastructure Operations Committee Chair) to speak to the submission at the select committee hearings.
Council’s formal view, informed by the views of more than 1200 submissions from the community earlier this year, is strongly opposed to Government’s four-entity water reform model. Its preference is for a smaller regional council-controlled organisation (CCO) model based on existing strategic relationships between Waikato and Bay of Plenty councils.
Mayor Southgate said Council was congratulated on its submission and members of the select committee asked questions to understand further the impact of these reforms on Hamilton.
“We have strongly and repeatedly raised concerns with these proposed reforms around community consultation, adequate local voice in representation arrangements, rights of ownership, placemaking and alignment with other Government reforms,” Mayor Southgate said.
“We are a growing city, the hub of the Waikato economy, and we have built regional strategic partnerships to make sure we grow in the right way and in the right places.
“This long-term strategic planning could be undone through the structures put forward by Government. It makes no sense that the largest growth council, asset owner and population base in the proposed water services entity does not have guaranteed representation at a governance level,” Mayor Southgate said.
Cr O’Leary told the select committee the reform could halt Council’s success in delivering integrated planning to get the best community outcomes across waters, transport, and growth.
“Government has asked us to do better with climate change and our Council has just adopted a bold and robust climate change strategy, yet this reform will hamper some of those goals because our water services will be split apart from our strategic planning,” Cr O’Leary said.
Council’s submission also highlighted concerns over Government’s proposed timing for the reform and the risks to the public if the transition was mishandled. On the evidence to date, Council believes the proposed establishment date is unrealistic, and said its concerns have been heightened by recent issues with the Government’s reform of vocational education.
The select committee is hearing public submissions on the Bill in August and September and is expected to report back to Parliament in November. The Bill enables transferring management of drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater from 67 councils nationwide to four new Water Service Entities from 1 July 2024.