The mayor of Wairoa has warned that three water reforms are ‘pretty scary’ for local government.

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Despite singing from the same song sheet less than six months ago, Hawke’s Bay mayors are split on proposed water reforms.

The breakup comes as the mayor of Wairoa, a remote rural area, warns that improvements in three bodies of water may spell the end of local government.

Local leaders around the world are dealing with pressing issues such as natural disasters, climate change, and failing infrastructure.

As a result, the reforms could shift regulation of drinking, sewage, and storm water away from municipal governments and into the hands of regional bodies.

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little, who lives in one of Aotearoa’s most remote areas, predicted the worst.

“There’s not going to be a lot of work for local government,” he predicted.

“So the localism will be gone, and central government will make decisions that should be taken by local citizens. It’s very frightening.”

The region’s four mayors released a joint press release in November, accepting the government’s three waters scheme and the $50 million in support to get it off the ground.

Little said at the time that the funding was welcome, particularly because Wairoa needed all the help it could get.

But five months on, he said signing up to the next stage of reforms could lead to the end of local councils.

“If we lose the three waters and then at the moment, we look like we’re getting a bit of shortfall from NZTA around roading and then two or three years time, the government might come and say ‘well actually, you’re not performing very well on your roading because you’re not putting enough money into it’ and then they say ‘well we might look at taking them away off you as well’.”

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Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise said she still had many unanswered questions.

Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise

Dom Thomas

“There’s still a lot of unknowns. We currently still have absolutely no idea about what these new entities might look like, what size they might be, how many of them there will be, we have no idea around the specific cost, benefits and risks to the local councils.”

At the other end of the region from Wairoa, Central Hawke’s Bay Mayor Alex Walker said the status quo would not work for her district.

“It’s very obvious to us that we are going to struggle to do this on our own. The system is not going to allow us to do the job as quickly and as well as probably our communities and the country deserves.”

She said the region would be stronger together.

Central Hawke's Bay mayor Alex Walker

Central Hawke’s Bay mayor Alex Walker 

“We know that if we work together as Hawke’s Bay we can do it better than what we’ve got now, and [we] would be very keen to do that. But we don’t have enough information about clearly how the national reform will land for our individual communities to truly give an informed response or an informed debate on the rights and wrongs.”

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Since a campylobacter epidemic killed four people five years ago, policy ideas began in Havelock North, in the Hastings area.

Sandra Hazlehurst, the mayor of Hastings, declined to comment until the next moves in the change are announced in May.

She has, however, never come out against the initiative.

Hawke’s Bay’s four territorial authorities had previously considered merging their water properties into a council-controlled organisation, but this proposal was placed on hold due to the government’s reforms.

According to the Hawke’s Bay Three Waters project website, the area is “ahead of the curve” in comparison to the rest of the world.

“Because we worked together to commission an independent in-depth assessment of the issues and options for the future of three waters service delivery across the region, we are in a very strong position to represent the interests of Hawke’s Bay in our engagement with Central Government through the reform process to solve the challenges that come from regionalisation of three waters services.”

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Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta insisted the government was taking mayors along with it in the planning.

She said someone like Mayor Little needed to have a close look at the details the government has provided.

“I’d invite him to consider fully all the information and modelling that we’ve presented over the last four years in relation to the cost challenges on local government and it’s very much focused on water reform.”

Further north in Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz was also keeping an eye on things, but agreed so much was still unknown.

“It is a massive reform, which we’re still waiting for clarity from the Government. At this stage, I’m sure every mayor in Aotearoa would say to you we are still unclear on what’s happening.”


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