Western Bay of Plenty Mayor, Garry Webber

A lack of clarity from the government about the Three Waters reforms has led to “unnecessary angst”, according to a Bay of Plenty leader.
Western Bay of Plenty District mayor Garry Webber told Local Democracy Reporting if the government had implemented the working group and been clearer about asset ownership and co-governance of the entities before mandating the reforms for councils, they “might’ve avoided a fair bit of unnecessary angst.”
Webber was one of 20 members of the working group appointed by the government to address the concerns raised by the sector about the reforms.
Three Waters will see the management of drinking, waste and storm water handed to four regional entities, instead of being managed by each of New Zealand’s 67 councils.
The working group made 47 recommendations and last week Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Infrastructure Minister Grant Robertson, announced the government would adopt most of them.
One of the concerns raised was around ownership of the assets and privatisation.
The working group recommended a council shareholding model where councils would hold one non-financial share in their entity per 50,000 units of population. For those with populations below 50,000, one share would be given.
This was adopted by government and means Tauranga City Council will have four shares in Entity B and Western Bay of Plenty District Council will have two.
Though councils will in effect own the water entities, the entities would be governed by a “regional representation group”, of which members would be a 50-50 split between local council representatives and iwi group representatives.
Tauranga City Council commission chair Anne Tolley said “It is encouraging to see that the government has accepted most of the three waters working group recommendations, but there are still some significant issues to deal with around entity formation and governance”.
Another issue the working group raised was the need for improvement in the government’s communication and engagement with the public.
“The advertising programme from the government was less than professional and caused a lot of confusion that led to misinformation,” said Webber.
Tolley previously told Local Democracy Reporting the “government advertising campaign undertaken to raise awareness of the reforms was a missed opportunity.”
The campaign showed cartoon people who were unhappy with poor quality water, while a voice over said the government was working to ensure Kiwis could keep drinking straight from the tap.
Webber said some of the misinformation pertains to Māori ownership of the assets.
“What we’ve made very clear is the assets will be owned by the councils,” he said.
“Right from the outset, Maoridom made it very clear from day one ownership of the assets was never on their agenda.
Iwi have only ever been interested in Te Mana o te Wai – the health and wellbeing of the waterways and waterbodies, said Webber.
“Protection of water quality in the rivers, lakes, oceans and harbours, that’s what their driver was,” he said.
According to Tauranga City Council engagement on the reforms one of the concerns raised by the public was how the governance arrangement would work, including the role of iwi.
Others were transparency around the ownership and transfer of assets, entity ownership and how councils and communities can influence entity decision making.
Tolley said the council would be reviewing the modified proposal to see how the concerns expressed by the community and mana whenua had been accommodated.
“Following the review process, we will be able to provide an update on what this means for Tauranga Moana, and consider the next steps required to maintain our dialogue with government and ensure the best outcomes for our people,” she said.
Both Tolley and Webber agree reform is needed to meet future national standards.
“The intent of the reforms is not in question – all New Zealanders should have access to safe and affordable drinking water and the health of our streams and rivers is paramount,” said Tolley.
“To achieve that, it will be important for government and local government to work collaboratively.”
Webber said sewage ending up in harbours, including here in Tauranga, boil water notices and contamination of drinking water, are just some of the issues seen around the country.
“If we’re supposed to be a first world nation something had to change,” he said.
“The status quo is just not a solution.”
During the announcement last week, Infrastructure Minister Grant Robertson, said “Fundamentally these reforms are about delivering clean and safe drinking water at an affordable price for New Zealanders.”
“Without reform, households are facing water costs of up to $9,000 per year, or the prospect of services that fail to meet their needs,” he said.
Webber said the reforms are about being efficient and effective in the three waters space.
“Putting the water quality of our rivers, lakes, harbours, and oceans at the top of the priority list. That’s what we’re protecting.”
Mahuta was approached for comment but did not responded in time for deadline.