Today government announced it will transfer responsibility for the management of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater from 67 independent councils to four large publicly-owned entities.
Based on today’s announcement, Hamilton City Council would be part of a central North Island entity involving 22 councils in the greater Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki and parts of Manawatu-Whanganui. Boundaries will be confirmed in September 2021. The change will come into place in 2024.
Hamilton Mayor Paula Southgate has welcomed today’s announcement, saying the case for water reform is clear.
“Latest figures suggest New Zealand needs up to $185 billion to bring three waters up to speed. The data very clearly shows a smaller number of entities managing water services in New Zealand is the best thing for our communities and for New Zealand overall. That is the case for every community,” she said.
“In Hamilton analysis shows that, without reform, the average household cost for water services would more than double. For other councils, the numbers are far more sobering.”
The financial case for change is compelling but she was wary of focusing on numbers alone, she said.
“This change is about doing what is best for communities across New Zealand. It’s about ensuring all New Zealanders have equal access to clean drinking water, environmentally sustainable wastewater services and a delivery system which looks after our rivers and waterways. If we fail our environment, we fail our people.”
Southgate said her Council remains committed to supporting the reform programme.
“Government data shows all communities will be better off. The government has reiterated again that all water assets will remain in public ownership, as they must. These assets have been paid for and maintained by the people of New Zealand,” she said.
“But there are still plenty of challenging conversations ahead. Our focus now will be on ensuring Hamilton remains a strong and leading voice in those conversations. We want to actively influence these reforms. We will not be a passive bystander to one of the biggest changes to local government in decades.”
Many details, including financial transition arrangements, were not yet clear. Southgate noted a financial reform package to support local government will be announced in mid-July.
“Hamilton has always advocated for funding assistance. No council can afford to, or will support, any reform that will place further financial burden on local communities. Ratepayers simply cannot afford it,” she said.
“We will also be asking government what financial assistance will be provided to those councils that will see a massive portion of their operation go because of water reforms. What will government do to ensure the ongoing viability of those smaller councils?”
“Over recent months, I’ve spoken with Mayors throughout the Waikato region and beyond. While not all of us agree on everything, we all want to do the right thing by our communities. Now I think we just need to get on board, be constructive, and make sure we do what’s right for our communities and for the country overall.”
She accepted today’s announcements would be unsettling for Council staff.
“Hamilton City Council waters staff do a brilliant job and consistently deliver water services to a high level for our city. The analysis released today shows Hamilton stacks up very well and exceeds expectations in terms of our three waters performance. What is very clear is that good waters staff will be highly sought-after in the future.”