three water


Surprise at Government’s actions on Three Waters

November 1 2021 by Mayor Jim Boult

Surprise at Government’s actions on Three Waters

Like most of you, I was astounded on Wednesday last week, to hear the advice from central government that they had decided to mandate their Three Waters programme. This effectively removes ownership of water assets from council control.

No one will argue that there can be a better job done in managing Three Waters. Personally, I don’t think the mistakes made in relation to the Havelock North disaster a few years ago have been adequately addressed in some quarters, but in general terms it must be recognised that councils throughout New Zealand do a damn good job in managing these assets.

All councils are financially constrained, in our case particularly so given the current effects of Covid-19 on our economy. Therefore, while we’d like to spend more money on our water systems, there are constraints. This could be addressed by a better funding model and recognition that these are critical assets.

In looking at the proposal for the management of Three Waters by the four entities throughout New Zealand, I see some parallels with the health sector. A few years ago, it was decided that DHB’s around New Zealand could manage health assets better than they had been in the past. Of recent times it’s been decided that the new system didn’t work particularly well, and we’re going back to a centralised model. I fear that the same thing might happen with waters management in the future.

Currently, assets are owned by councils on behalf of their communities. I am surprised that some at central government think they can be handled effectively under the new proposal.

Another factor that doesn’t seem to have been taken into account to date, is the many privately-owned water supplies around New Zealand - particularly in our district. Many of the current owners of those supplies are keen for council to pick them up, recognising the cost of maintaining them, and in the liability issues surrounding potable water. As I understand it, close to 20% of New Zealanders still get their water from private supplies. What is to happen to those in the future? Will they be centralised as well?

There is also a lot of controversy around the governance of the four water controlling entities in the future. These will be very large businesses. It is massively important that these businesses attract New Zealand’s top directors (if they are to be created) and those boards attract top management. Will that happen? Government entities sometimes struggle to get quality directors (mainly because they don’t pay them particularly well and don’t treat them all that well either) and for this reason again, I’m concerned for the future operation of these businesses.

All in all, I’m disappointed that government didn’t further engage with councils and look for a better solution than simply acquiring these assets by force.

Mayor Jim Boult

- Mayor Jim Boult