Proposed changes to the Government’s Three Waters reform package are ‘‘cosmetic’’, say three North Canterbury council leaders.
Parliament’s finance and expenditure committee has recommended a mix of rural, provincial and metropolitan councils be represented on the four entities, which would hold annual shareholders’ meetings.
Stronger accountability measures and increased audit scrutiny have also been recommended.
The reforms aim to put New Zealand’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater into four regional entities, but councils around the country fear they will lose control.
North Canterbury’s councils say the proposals do little to ease their concerns.
‘‘The proposed changes are cosmetic and it doesn’t represent the strong feedback in the 80,000 submissions,’’ Waimakariri Mayor Dan Gordon said.
Hurunui Mayor Marie Black described the select committee’s recommendations as ‘‘somewhat underwhelming’’.
‘‘The recommendations have made little change to the overall context of the reform.’’
Communities 4 Local Democracy, of which Mr Gordon is deputy chair, has joined forces with the Mayors of Auckland and Christchurch to promote a model of regional ownership, where local councils collaborate and could apply for central Government funding.
‘‘The indications we have is that National and the Greens support our recommendations and it seems even the Māori Party is leaning towards our position.’’
Mr Gordon and Kaikōura District Council chief executive Will Doughty said a piece of legislation as important as this ideally needed cross-party support.
National Party Local Government Spokesperson Simon Watts said the select committee feedback showed the government was still not listening.
‘‘It shows that Jacinda Ardern and Nanaia Mahuta’s promise of consideration and dialogue with mayors and local communities about the alternatives is just talk.’’
Green Party Three Waters Spokesperson Eugenie Sage said the model lacked a strong connection to regional communities and long-term funding certainty.
She said the Green Party preferred a seven entity model with local councils having greater oversight of the entities.
Under this scenario the Canterbury councils could potentially work together, which was more workable than an entity incorporating most of the South Island, Mr Doughty said.
‘‘Whatever happens there would need to be further engagement with Ngāi Tahu and what it means for the Takiwā.
‘‘One of the challenges of the four entities model is you’ve got such a diversity of councils and regions, so it would be very difficult to get some consensus.’’
While the tide seemed to be turning against the government, the election was still a year away and Mr Doughty feared the legislation could be too advanced to be repealed.
‘‘I do wonder with the timeframes, if they are committed with these bills and with the National transition programme already drafting employment contracts, you wonder how hard it will be to unpick.’’
Mr Doughty said he remained open to the possibility there may be benefits for Kaikōura from the reform, but if there was ‘‘it needs to be better articulated’’.