Thursday, November 30, 2023

Councils appeal High Court ruling on Three Waters

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Timaru and Waimakariri district councils may yet be joined by Whangārei .
The councils asked the High Court to protect their right to manage and operate water assets.
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The Timaru and Waimakariri district councils have filed an appeal against a High Court ruling on their ownership rights over “Three Waters” assets.

The two councils, along with the Whangārei district council, sought declarations that included their right to manage and operate their assets, and the right to full and fair compensation if that ownership was removed by legislation. 

In February, the High Court in Wellington declined to issue any such declarations. 

However, the three councils said at the time that the ruling did at least acknowledge that the government was expropriating their assets without compensation, despite the councils retaining notional ownership.

It is understood that the Whangārei district council is still considering its position on the appeal.

At the time of the High Court ruling, the Water Services Entities Act 2022 provided for four new regional water services entities (WSE). As recently announced by Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty, that will now be changed in favour of 10 regional entities.

Timaru district mayor Nigel Bowen said in a statement there are some errors in the judgment that merit further scrutiny. 

“We do not agree that the declarations sought were too general and did not reflect local government ownership rights in respect of infrastructure assets,” he said.

The councils do not agree with the court’s assertion that the declarations infringed the principles of non-interference in the legislative process, Bowen said.

Unlike other centralisation plans, such as Te Whatu Ora in health services and the Te Pukenga mega-polytech, these were not central government assets to start with.

“Between our councils, there are more than a billion dollars’ worth of community assets being expropriated without compensation, so we feel it’s our duty for all New Zealanders to ensure that basic property rights aren’t undermined,” he said.

The two councils will approach other local bodies also opposed to the reforms to see if they want to join the proceedings. 

“We have real concerns that once a precedent is set through Three Waters, any and every other community asset is up for grabs.”

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