Changes make water reforms more workable for communities and councils

Local Government

The Government has welcomed proposed recommendations to improve the workability of water reform legislation. At a time when the cost of living challenges confronting households is real, these reforms will help lessen the burden of necessary water infrastructure investment on ratepayers.

Parliament’s cross-party Finance and Expenditure Committee has reported back after five months’ work on the Water Services Entities Bill. The bill establishes four publicly-owned water entities to deliver more cost-effective, safe and efficient water services, through improved investment and management.

“I thank the committee for its careful consideration of more than 80,000 submissions and welcome its recommendations. As the result of listening to public submissions, extensive changes have been proposed,” says Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

“Government, councils and communities agree: we need to fix water networks and keep costs down. Financially sustainable investment in water infrastructure is beyond the reach of most of our 67 local councils and their ratepayers if they work in isolation.

“Keeping a lid on rates rises is imperative, as households, businesses, communities and councils around the country face cost of living challenges.

“When an estimated 34,000 New Zealanders get sick from drinking water each year, that is a crisis. We are committed to ensuring everyone’s drinking water is clean, boil water notices are minimised, sewage leaks get fixed, and pipes are in the ground to help build new homes, in the most cost-effective way possible.

“The amendments make the legislation more workable. They improve local voice, strengthen representation, and increase transparency. They will also provide certainty to councils and those working in the water services sector about the future of our critical infrastructure. 

“We heard from rural councils who felt their voices would be drowned out by larger urban centres. At their request, the Bill now includes a provision which requires a mix of rural, provincial and metropolitan councils to be present on the regional representative group.

“We will also require the entities to establish an annual shareholders’ meeting. In the interests of transparency, we are also requiring these meetings and entity board meetings to be held in public. This level of public reporting will give communities greater visibility of infrastructure investment that supports broader wellbeing.

“Internal Affairs officials have also worked with the Office of the Auditor-General to improve accountability measures in the legislation, including strengthened reporting lines and obligations and increased audit scrutiny.

“We have listened to local government concerns about the role of entities in the local planning system. Our response is clear: entities will be ‘plan-takers’ not ‘plan-makers’.

“We have agreed to stronger rules to require water entities to better support and enable planning processes and growth. This gives councils and their communities certainty they will still be in the driving seat when it comes to planning and development.

“I also acknowledge those submissions and other input which questioned the fundamental elements of the water reforms. The Government has listened to and considered these views. We have also had tough conversations over the past five years since the former National Government first began this process.

“We remain firmly of the view that the future affordability and sustainability of our water infrastructure is best served by reform underpinned by the four fundamentals of public ownership, balance sheet separation, good governance, and Treaty partnership,” Nanaia Mahuta says.