Govt ‘must’ pick up Three Waters recommendations - local Govt boss

Source: 1News

The Government is expected to reveal its response to a working group's recommendations to its Three Waters proposals on Friday at 11am.

Among the changes the group - made up of council and iwi representatives - wanted to see was allowing councils to hold shares in the Three Waters entities, with the aim of community ownership over its water services assets.

The working group also suggested further protections against privatisation and wanted local voices to be strengthened in the allocation of resources by creating sub-committees made up of community members and iwi/hapū in each region.

The working group was established after concerns were raised by local Government, community groups and iwi about the privatisation of assets and loss of accountability. The group delivered its recommendations to the Government in March.

Another big change is tougher regulation of small water suppliers.

The Government on Friday will reveal which of the 47 recommendations it would take onboard and the "next steps" in its Three Waters reforms.

Stuart Crosby, Local Government New Zealand president, told Breakfast he was "confident" the Government had listened to the proposals.

"I'm confident the Government will and, in fact, must pick up all those proposals. Some of them are small but very important, like having an Ombudsman that people can go to if they have complaints, reassessing the conversation and engagement, which has been appalling up to date.

"We hope that all 47 recommendations will be embedded into the proposal."

He said he hoped the announcement "will bring the local back into local government" and address concerns about ownership of assets and the place of local voice in influencing decisions within the large water entitles the Government was proposing.

The Government announced plans late last year to create four publicly-owned water entities that would manage the country’s drinking, storm and wastewater, taking control away from councils.

"Local Government New Zealand and most of our sector do believe there is a case for change, there's no doubt about that. In terms of the Government programme, we've supported the programme. We've supported the objectives… but we haven't supported the model that was proposed," Crosby said.

"The Government of the day believed we would accept this with open arms. But, when they drilled down to it and we drilled down to it, there were critical factors that needed to be addressed."

READ MORE: Claims Māori will own NZ’s water infrastructure dismissed

Going forward, Three Waters reforms needed to be depoliticised, Crosby said.

"Sadly, this has become incredibly political and we've lost focus on what the goal is, and the goal is to deliver good, clean drinking water and safe, environmentally friendly wastewater."

Without the reforms, "I shudder to think what the ratepayer's bills will be", he added.

READ MORE: Mahuta admits getting things wrong with Three Waters reform

The Three Waters reform project was triggered by an outbreak of gastroenteritis in Havelock North in 2016. It led to the death of four people and made thousands more seriously ill.

A report into what happened at Havelock North found district council-run public drinking water systems were potentially unsafe because of long-term underinvestment.

1News exclusively revealed in April more than 1 million Kiwis missed out on access to safe drinking water at some point in 2021.

Under the Three Waters proposal, the Government would take on the debt risk associated with the new water service entities. That would allow for more money to be borrowed to repair, maintain and improve water infrastructure. However, there was concern the Government's draft legislation for the changes appeared to fail to do this.