Far North voice must be heard on 3 waters

Published on 04 November 2021

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Last week, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced that the Government is pressing ahead with reform plans to amalgamate council-owned drinking, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure across New Zealand into four water services entities. The Government says this will deliver better and lower-cost water services to New Zealanders. For the Far North, this will mean one entity providing water services across Auckland and Northland. The Minister also confirmed that Councils can no longer opt out of these reforms.

There had been strong hints that this decision was coming and was not a surprise. However, I am extremely disappointed for Far North ratepayers. I feel they have not been adequately consulted about such a fundamental change to the operation of to some of our most significant assets. I was also extremely annoyed that during her announcement, the Minister chose to cite the need to boil water provided by a private Far North water supplier as a justification for the reforms. The implication was that Far North District Council water supplies are at fault, which is a complete misrepresentation of the services this council provides.

On the same day of the announcement, the Council received results from the three waters public survey we launched in September. We asked independent research company, Key Research, to conduct the survey. It selected Far North residents randomly from the Māori and General Electoral Rolls and asked them to take part in an online survey. This asked whether the Council should opt in or opt out of the Government’s water reforms. The same survey was also opened to the public and was promoted through newspaper and radio advertising, social media and our newsletters.

Key Research received 1047 survey responses in all, 168 from randomly selected electors and 879 from the public. The overwhelming majority of respondents said the Council should opt out of the reforms. Of those who took the public survey, 85% said we should opt out and 69% of those selected from electoral rolls said the same. Opting out is now off the table, but that does not mean the survey was a wasted exercise. Today, Councillors will be presented with an in-depth analysis of the results. This will help us understand your concerns about the reforms and what you support. It is important to acknowledge that councils and Local Government New Zealand are not opposed reforming the way three waters are delivered. However, I believe our community should have more say in what happens.

Last week, Minister Mahuta acknowledged this and committed to setting up a working group of council and iwi representatives to find solutions for the very real concerns we have about governance, representation, and accountability of the new entities. This will include opportunities for public consultation and participation. I look forward finding out more about the working group and public participation. In the meantime, I will continue advocating to ensure that your concerns are listened to and your rights are preserved.