Key considerations

We understand the importance of exploring alternatives to make sure three waters services are delivered in the best way possible, but there is a lot at stake including the following.

Public ownership

Councils will collectively own the new entities which will own three waters infrastructure and associated debt. Continued public ownership of water infrastructure is a bottom line for the Government and it is developing safeguards against future privatisation. Legislation will make it difficult, but not impossible, for a future government to privatise three waters services

Governance

Councils and mana whenua will appoint Regional Representative Groups which will appoint Independent Selection Panels. These will appoint competency-based boards to govern the new entities. The Regional Representative Groups will provide the entities with a Statement of Strategic and Performance Expectations to deliver on. Residents and ratepayers need to consider whether they are better served by this governance model or the current one. This involves elected members developing a Long Term Plan (after weighing up competing priorities with communities) and voters holding them accountable for their performance at elections every three years

Ratepayer equity

The Council has used rates to fund significant upgrades and renewals of the district’s three waters infrastructure which have a collective value of $306.5 million. The Council received $11.8 million for three waters infrastructure when it joined the initial phase of the programme. The Government is offering a further $35.1 million to the Council for other infrastructure if it remains in the programme. The current proposal doesn’t compensate ratepayers for their historic investment in three waters infrastructure.

Efficiencies

The Government claims that efficiencies of up to 45% could be achieved nationally by reforming three waters services. However, it has provided limited evidence for these efficiencies which are based on overseas experience.

Costs

The Government claims that the average cost of three waters services to Far North households would decrease from the current figure of $1,120 annually to $800 in 2051 under its reform proposal and increase to $8,690 if the Council doesn’t join the reform programme. It is important to note that these are estimates of how investment in three waters infrastructure is likely to impact households. They don’t include impacts climate change may have on three waters infrastructure. The figures also don’t include costs councils may incur on behalf of ratepayers if they have to take over private water supplies that aren’t able to meet new water quality standards. A report commissioned by Whangārei District Council casts doubt over the assumptions and analysis the Government used to calculate future costs. However, the Department of Internal Affairs believes the Whangārei report misrepresents the evidence base supporting the reform proposals and reaches conclusions that are not well-supported by evidence from similar reforms in other areas. Modelling the Far North District Council has commissioned suggests that ratepayers in the Far North are likely to be considerably better off financially if the Council joins the programme.

Local voice

Currently, residents and ratepayers can raise issues about three waters services directly with the Mayor and Councillors. The Government says the new water services entities will have to consult with customers, businesses, and residents on their strategic direction, investment priorities, prices and charges to a level of detail that will likely exceed current requirements 

Growth

Areas of the Far North are growing fast. Providing three waters infrastructure and managing land use in the district allows the Council to align planning with infrastructure programmes. Having a separate three waters entity may lead to a lack of coordination and prioritisation when it comes to deciding how our district grows.

Natural hazards

Our district has a long coastline and many of our communities are near rivers or in low-lying areas. Our Council has demonstrated that it is able to respond quickly to flood and storm surge events that impact three waters infrastructure and communities. A large entity based outside the district may lack the proximity and agility to respond quickly and effectively during these events.