I attended the Watercare Wastewater Treatment Plant in Mangere to announce the next steps that the Government will take to progress the Three Waters Reform and lead a strategic conversation on the future role and contribution of Local Government to support community wellbeing.
The relationship between these two significant themes highlights the current role undertaken by Councils to address and manage waters infrastructure and service delivery and the substantial role that kiwi ratepayers seek from their Councils to contribute more towards community development and wellbeing aspirations.
The approach that the Government is taking has been set out in the cabinet papers; the Future state of the three waters system : regulation and service delivery http://www.dia.govt.nz/three-waters-review and Local Governance for community wellbeing http://www.dia.govt.nz/CLGP.
From the work that I have taken over the past twelve months, it is becoming increasingly evident that the Government needs to respond to the system-wide challenges regarding safe, reliable drinking water and increased expectations regarding the health of our rivers, lakes, streams and oceans. The Havelock North Inquiry made a series of recommendations which urge the Government to respond in a coherent way to complex challenges.
It’s a worry that when there is a major storm or weather event people feel the effects in many ways but we begin to understand how this impacts on our infrastructure and then our health and wellbeing.
We also need to respond to the issues creating pressure and impacting on Council balance sheets and that’s the burgeoning cost of waters infrastructure. Councils are in a precarious position of balancing investment into infrastructure upgrades as the expectation of higher drinking waters and environmental standards are being set. This sits alongside expectations from the community to meet expectations of regional growth, environmental stewardship, improved public facilities and enhanced spaces, housing, tourism and transport. A reliance on rates is unsustainable and that’s why the Government has tasked the Productivity Commission with seeking other funding and financing options for the sector and I look forward to their report which is due in October 2019.
Our three waters system faces critical funding and capability challenges, pressures such as aging infrastructure, population changes, increased tourism numbers and the need to build resilience into the system because of the effects of severe weather events and climate change – we cannot sit and do nothing, a solution to the cost pressure of infrastructure investment can accelerate the way in which we respond to meet the challenge and fix the problem.
The first step will be to focus on regulation across drinking, waste and storm waters and a paper will go to cabinet by June 2019 to provide detail on the design of the framework. At the end of 2019 further work and modelling will be undertaken for cabinet to consider service delivery models and this is apart of a longer conversation with the Local Government Sector and stakeholders. There is a prospect in the meantime that regionals will look to their own aggregated service delivery arrangements which I want to encourage. The extent to which this can fundamentally address the level of funding required, the debt finance and local government constraints remains a challenge.
Many people in the community will wonder ‘Why does this three waters work matter?’ and ‘How does it affect me?’ and that’s a good question.
I believe that in a country like ours, we should have an expectation that no matter where we live in a small rural community, town or urban centre we should expect to have safe, reliable, healthy drinking water and being a country surrounded by water our expectation to go to our local beach or river to swim should be free from worrying whether those special places are swimmable. We value our environment and we want clean water to drink – those are a common set of expectations that are important to everyone.