Politics | Water

Three Waters washed away in next two weeks

Local Government Minister Simeon Brown

The controversial Three Waters local body water reform will be a goneburger by February 23.

Local Government Minister Simeon Brown says as part of the coalition government’s 100-day plan, the repeal will restore local council ownership and control of water services, and responsibility for service delivery.

He says two bills will be passed later in the year and a technical advisory body will be set up to give him advice as he develops policy and law to implement his government’s Local Water Done Well.

The bills will allow councils to separate out their water services intro council-controlled organisations, which Auckland has had for some years. Wellington has a shared organisation with Hutt and regional local bodies. A second bill to provide for the long-term will be introduced in December and passed by the middle of 2025.

The minister says it will have provisions for financial sustainability, an economic regulation regime, and a new range of structural and financing tools, including a new type of financially independent council-controlled organisation.

The five experts were named including two district council chief executives, a water reform economist, infrastructure commission director and a finance and instructure legal expert. None appear to be Māori.

Voluntary rather than mandatory

The New Zealand Herald reports that Brown told a post-cabinet press conference councils would need to put forward financial plans, including ring-fencing funds that consumers pay for their water specifically for water infrastructure.

He said councils were up to the job, despite councils being in control of their water infrastructure so far, which has led to the current infrastructure deficit.

Wellington Water did not have the discipline of a council-controlled organisation, Brown said, and neither did it have the ring-fencing of revenue.

Councils can opt to work together and have balance sheet separation to be able to draw down more debt, but it would be voluntary rather than mandatory under Labour’s Three Waters plan.

Brown said it was up to councils whether they used water meters, but he added that meters were better for detecting leaks and for measuring water usage.

The ring-fencing would mean that councils wouldn’t be able to choose the “nice-to-haves rather than the must-haves”.

No funding to set up

Brown said the government was not planning to provide funding to set up council-controlled organisation, which would be up to those councils that wanted to form one.

“This is what councils across the country said they wanted.”

Brown said the previous government spent about $1.2b on Three Waters, and there was about $150m left over, which he said should be spent on water infrastructure.

Asked about guaranteeing the debt for Watercare in Auckland, Brown said there was no intention to guarantee council-controlled organisation debt, and options were being worked through for Auckland at the moment.

Brown rejected the claim that the changes would just shift the bill from taxpayer to ratepayer.

- Additional reporting from NZ Herald