Hurunui District Mayor Marie Black and the council are bitterly disappointed that the Government has ignored the feedback provided by councils on behalf of their communities by deciding to make the Three Waters Reform mandatory.
The Hurunui District Council engaged with the government on its proposed Three Waters Reform Programme on the basis that any outcomes from the process would be voluntary and all councils would have the opportunity to opt out of any proposed reform.
Last month Mayor Black, councillors and council officers undertook a robust informal public consultation process to get a gauge on what those throughout the District thought about the proposed Reform.
There was a resounding no to handing over the three waters assets to government.
Therefore, today’s announcement that the government will be introducing legislation to transfer the three waters assets held by councils on behalf of their communities to four new entities, has been described by Mayor Black as flying in the face of previous assurances given by Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta, the process would be voluntary.
“This is not how local democracy works,” says Mrs Black.
She says that like other councils across New Zealand, the Hurunui District Council entered this agreement with central government under the belief there would be a collective assessment and understanding of the impact of the proposed Reform on their own district.
“The government has not honoured this agreement. The provision for opting out was always there, it has never been challenged or taken off the table, until now.
“We find ourselves in a situation where we have been removed from a democratic decision making process.”
Mrs Black says the mere fact the vast majority of those in the District did not want to hand over the three waters assets to government hands meant they valued and trusted the relationships with council for looking after the delivery of water services in the District.
“We are proud of the three waters services we deliver throughout the District, which includes quality safe drinking water, and robust and reliable wastewater and stormwater networks.”
She says there is a significant rural representation in Hurunui, where farmers know who to call if their have an issue with their water.
“They can be assured someone from the council’s Three Waters team will be out to see them in quick time. On a similar note, if there is a leak on an urban street, the Three Waters team is only a phone call away.
“This quality service will be impossible to uphold under the soon-to-be-established four new entities,” Mrs Black says.
The council doesn’t accept the case for change has been made in the Hurunui District, and it does not believe that the nationalisation of community assets without recompense is morally fair.
It considers that the convoluted governance and ownership systems proposed by the Minster provides no direct local input into, or control of, the delivery of water services.
“The integrity of this whole process has been significantly damaged. We went into this with good faith, but the integrity of the relationship was not valued,”Mrs Black says.
The council remains committed to fully consulting with the residents and ratepayers of the District to ensure their views are heard, and will continue to represent those views.