Warning over Northland's Three Waters governance voice

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Northland’s Three Waters governance voice will be lost in the wake of Government decisions on how the sector will be helmed, Kaipara Mayor Dr Jason Smith is warning.

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Smith was part of the Government’s Three Waters working group, set up to address councils’ growing concerns around representation, governance and accountability.

The Government yesterday announced it would be going with almost all the working group’s 47 recent recommendations towards addressing what had become major sticking points around these reform aspects.

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The Government wants to take the Three Waters functions from 67 councils nationally and combine them into four giant inter-regional water services entities. This would see Far North District Council (FNDC), Kaipara District Council (KDC) and Whangārei District Council (WDC) combined with Auckland Council into what is currently called Entity A.

Smith, who represented Northland councils in the three-month working group, said his working party call on a critical piece of the jigsaw covering Entity A’s regional governance-level decisions had been ignored by the Government.

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This meant Northland local government’s Three Waters voice would be lost.

The new water services entities will be governed by regional representation groups (RRGs), made up of a mix of council and iwi representatives.

Entity A’s RRG is to have 14 members – four from Auckland Council, four from Tāmaki Makaurau iwi, three from Northland’s district councils – one each from KDC, FNDC and WDC, and three Tai Tokerau iwi representatives.

The entity has nationally-unique size disparity between its member councils – with Auckland Council representing more than 1.63 million people and Northland’s three district councils representing 196,000.

Smith as a result called for the Government to require a 90 per cent majority for any of the RRG’s governance decision-making, when universal consensus decision-making could not be achieved.

He said this was critical for Northland councils to have any degree of influence in Entity A’s governance decision-making.

However, the Government yesterday said only a 75 per cent majority would be required, in spite of the entity’s nationally-unique councils’ size disparity.

Smith said it was easy to forsee situations such as when Entity A set new water rates and Auckland Council representatives voted those for Aucklanders would be cheaper than for Northlanders.

“What would that mean for the ratepayers of Paihia or Dargaville or Ruakākā,” Smith said.

“There would be absolutely nothing Northland councils could do about that under the 75 per cent majority process.”

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Local Democracy Reporting Northland asked Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta why the Government had rejected Smith’s 90 per cent majority voting call but did not receive a response by edition time.

Smith made the call as the working group’s only Northland local government representative. It came in contrast to the balance of the working party, from around New Zealand, accepting the 75 per cent majority for Entity A, in line with that of the country’s three other water services entities.

Mahuta said yesterday Three Waters reforms needed to keep moving.

Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai said the Government’s continuing Three Waters push was disappointing.

“This is a dark day for local democracy as the Government has continued to force this reform through without the consent of its stakeholders or their communities,” Mai said.

WDC, FNDC and KDC are part of the breakaway group Communities 4 Local Democracy-He hapori mō te Manapori (C4LD) – set up in mid-December in opposition to the Government’s Three Waters plans and now made up of almost half of New Zealand’s 67 councils. The group has more than $60 billion in Three Waters assets and represents more than a million people nationwide.

Mai is on C4LD’s six-council oversight group.

The Government is allocating council shares in the new entities, one for every 50,000 people. This would see Entity A’s 40 shares being split between Auckland Council getting 35 shares, WDC and FNDC two each and KDC one.

“Adding a Clayton’s shareholding for councils, that confers none of the normal benefits or obligations of ownership, does nothing to remove our real worries about community property rights and local voice,” Mai said.

“For councils to hand over millions of dollars of assets our communities have paid for in return for a single share of no real value is absolutely absurd.”

Mai said this was an unusual public shareholding model, where shareholders would have
no rights, other than the ability to decide whether or not to privatise entities’ Three Waters services.

She said the Government model remained a worrying attack on property rights and community voice.

WDC is one of three New Zealand councils which have formally challenged the Government in the High Court over what ownership in the Three Waters arena means.

Mai said C4LD’s alternate Three Waters model proposal would wipe the giant inter-regional mega water service entities being proposed to address particular issues with New Zealand’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater in favour of smaller, simpler options.

Local Democracy Reporting is public interest journalism funded by NZ On Air

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