Monday, April 22, 2024

Councils plan Three Waters pushback

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Councils around the country are joining forces to push back against the Government after it mandated its Three Waters policy.
The Three Waters Bill is legislation of the worst kind, Manawatū District Mayor Helen Worboys says.
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Manawatū District Mayor and farmer Helen Worboys says to do what the Government has done by mandating the Three Waters policy “just erodes all the trust and faith we had”.

Councils around the country are joining forces to push back against the Government after it mandated its Three Waters policy.

Manawatū District Mayor and farmer Helen Worboys says her council is disgusted with the way the Government has handled the proposed Three Waters Reform.

She says the Government has gone back on promises to engage fully with councils, to allow time for public consultation and to have the option to ‘opt out’ if their communities felt the model would not benefit them.

“So, our council, led by myself, have started a group of councils around the country who are opposed to the mandatory decision and the Government’s preferred model,” Worboy said. 

“We are pulling ourselves together to do a national campaign on the basis that ‘Government, we’ve played your game, you haven’t listened, you’re not answering our question, and you’re not even interested in us all working together to find an acceptable solution’.”

Worboys is also angry about what she sees as a one-size-fits-all approach.

“There’s been no acknowledgement from the minister that most councils in New Zealand have good-quality drinking water,” she said.

“She stood up there and said we have to make it (the Three Waters policy) mandatory, that it’s the only way that we’re going to get quality.

“The Department of Internal Affairs rated Manawatū District Council’s water infrastructure as ‘exceeding expectations’. But there was no acknowledgement from the minister that many councils like ours have good infrastructure, that green slime and frogs don’t come out of our taps as the Government’s $3.5 million ad campaign portrayed.

“The thing for our (Manawatū District) council is previous councils have done the right thing. They’ve invested well into infrastructure. They’ve planned and they’ve budgeted for it.

“That’s the other point we’re making to the Government. They’re making out that we’ve got no budgets, we’ve got no plans, that’s just nonsense.

“We’ve got 30-year asset management plans. We’ve got budgets. We’ve put money aside.”

Worboys understands that there are some councils who will need help to meet required standards.

“I’ve got no problem with that, but why would the Government take the asset off us, throw us into an entity with, in our case 22 other councils, and then say ‘and by the way you need to subsidise Palmy (Palmerston North) because they need some help’?” she asked.

“And our ratepayers are going ‘what?’ We’ve got some of the highest urban rates in NZ here in Feilding. Why? Because we’ve invested.”

Worboys says councils are not saying that they won’t make changes.

She says Manawatū council had started conversations at a Horizons Regional Council level about a regional plan, but those discussions had been put on hold while the Government’s proposal was considered.

“We’re saying ‘absolutely, we’ll look at smarter ways of doing things’, but to do what the Government has done just erodes all the trust and the faith that we had,” she said.

“The only way now is for councils to come together and push back.”

Worboy says the Government’s decision to use the select committee process rather than push legislation through under urgency is an opportunity for people to stand up and have a say.

“And we’re going to. We have to,” she said.

At the time of speaking to Farmers Weekly, a steering group of motivated councils, including Manawatū, are working together to decide how the pushback plan will work.

“We haven’t opened the invitation to all the councils yet. We have got a group of councils working on what it will look like, who we should engage to lead this for us, what expertise do we need, so we’re looking at that,” she said.

“We’ve only had a couple of meetings but the word is spreading.”

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