Have your say on 3 waters reforms

Published on 07 October 2021


Your council is currently grappling with one of the biggest decisions local government has faced in 30 years. What we decide in November will have a huge impact on how the Council operates and I am urging all residents to help us by sharing their views through an online survey we are running until 22 October.

Many readers will be aware of Government plans to change the way drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services are provided in New Zealand. If adopted, this will be the biggest change to local government since local authorities were amalgamated in 1989.

Currently, councils own and run most of New Zealand’s three waters services. In the Far North, the Council owns and operates eight water supplies, 16 wastewater schemes and 22 urban stormwater drainage networks. The Government believes that these and all other three waters services in New Zealand would be provided more efficiently by four publicly owned entities. The aim is to fix systemic infrastructure problems across the country. These were highlighted in 2016 by a gastroenteritis outbreak linked to contaminated drinking water at Havelock North, but also include ageing water pipes in our capital and sewage spills in other areas. The Government believes that only system-wide reforms will ensure that these problems can be fully addressed.

Here in the Far North, the changes would see services delivered by one entity covering all of Northland and Auckland (Entity A). While Entity A would be collectively owned by the three Northland and Auckland councils, we would no longer be responsible for providing three waters services. Our Council would receive a one-off payment of $35 million for our three waters assets, with ownership of three waters infrastructure transferred to the new entities on 1 July 2024.

I have real concerns about the proposals. Department of Internal Affairs figures supporting the changes are only estimates of how three waters infrastructure investment will impact households. The forecast paints a positive outcome for the Far North ratepayers, but I worry that key issues have been missed. For example, the impacts of climate change on water infrastructure or the costs for councils that take over private water supplies failing to meet tougher water standards. The new entities will be run by governance boards, but voters have no direct say over these boards. Is that the best governance model?

For now, the Council has voted to provisionally opt out of the reforms. We will make a final decision once we have studied the details more closely and considered your feedback on the proposals. To help you decide, we have provided information about the reforms on our website at www.fndc.govt.nz along with a link to the survey form.

Tell us whether we should opt in or out of the proposals and why. Over 400 of you have already done so, which is a great response and tells me how seriously many of you view the proposals. Feedback is open until 22 October, so please encourage friends and whanau to have their say. I also encourage you to contact your local Member of Parliament to share your views on the proposals.