The government is moving forward with the controversial three-water plan, agreeing to implement “the vast majority” of the task force’s recommendations. Specifically, 45 of the 47 recommendations will be implemented, including the introduction of a shareholding model.
According to the plan, the 67 existing municipal authorities responsible for managing drinking water, wastewater and stormwater (the three waters) would be merged into four large regional entities. However, in response to criticism from councils, the government has now agreed to give local councils ownership of water entities through a shareholding agreement. It was one of the main recommendations of the task force after councils expressed concern that they had little control over how water was delivered to their constituents.
Shares will be allocated to councils based on the size of their communities, with the Auckland council set to acquire 35 shares – by far the most of any region – in the northern entity.
On the issue of co-governance, the cabinet ruled out co-governance within the board of directors of the four water entities. Instead, it will be skill-based. However, the co-governance arrangements proposed for the global regional representative group are maintained.
Infrastructure Minister Grant Robertson said the reforms are essentially about providing clean and safe drinking water at an affordable price for New Zealanders. “Everyone accepts the need for change. One only has to look at the number of burst pipes, boil water advisories and the volume of sewage dumped in our ports to see that we cannot carry on as we are and our water infrastructure is collapsing. “, did he declare.
Robertson said the government has listened to councils’ concerns about ownership and voice. “With the key issues now resolved, we can’t afford to wait any longer.”
The governance structure of the three waters is slightly complex. In short: a “Regional Representative Group” will oversee the whole system. Below this will be a “Water Service Entity Board of Directors” responsible for the operational management of the entities. Finally, the water service entities themselves will provide the day-to-day services that New Zealanders rely on.
The government has also agreed to recognize and embrace Te Mana o te Wai – the health and well-being of our waterways and water bodies – as a principle that applies across the whole service framework. of water. The role of the regional representative group was strengthened to include oversight of local councils and mana whenua to ensure community voice and provide stronger accountability.
On co-governance, arguably one of the most controversial elements of the proposal, local government minister Nanaia Mahuta excluded the boards of the four co-governed entities. However, the regional representative group will have principles of co-governance with council members and mana whenua.
Mahuta said the concept of co-governance is actually nothing new – and it’s not about ownership. “Many councils already have co-governance agreements in place and recognize the importance and benefits of these agreements,” Mahuta said. “For example, the Waikato River Authority set up by the previous government, established fifty-fifty co-governance around the Waikato River and is a good model of shared decision-making working to improve the health of the river. “
She added: “The regional representative group is not about ownership, but rather about ensuring community inclusion and making their voices heard, ensuring a kaitiaki or guardianship role for the protection of our environment and maintain focus on the long-term planning required for national infrastructure. It’s a model that makes sense and is already working well.
Speaking at a launch event in Porirua, Robertson reiterated that while the Regional Representative Groups will have an aspect of joint local government and mana whenua representation, it will not influence anything at the operational level.