Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, Deputy Mayor Bill Cashmore and Regulatory Committee Chair Linda Cooper will today present Auckland Council’s submission to the government’s Finance Expenditure Committee hearing on the proposed Water Services Entities Bill.
This bill aims to reform New Zealand’s three waters system by establishing four publicly owned water services entities (WSEs), one of which will replace Auckland Council-controlled agency Watercare.
“While Auckland Council supports the need for reform nationwide to ensure uniformly high standards of water and wastewater services throughout New Zealand, it opposes the proposed governance model, which lacks accountability and therefore responsiveness to Aucklanders through their elected representatives,” Mayor Goff says.
“Auckland contributes 90 per cent of the population and 93 per cent of the asset value of the new WSE, but its share of governing votes by elected representatives drops to 28 per cent at best under the new model.
“We do not believe that the proposed governance structure allows for the scrutiny and accountability that is required over assets of such critical importance to Aucklanders. Nor does it ensure a necessary level of strategic direction and control over assets that Aucklanders have invested in and are now valued at more than $13 billion, with a further $11 billion allocated for three waters in our current 10-year budget.
“Aucklanders strongly support council’s position, with more than 80 per cent of those who submitted on consultation agreeing Auckland Council should have majority control in any new WSE and more than 75 per cent backing council’s view that a new entity should be kept accountable to the public through their elected council representatives. Independent polling also shows strong backing for our stance.
“Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has also said in a cabinet paper in June 2021 that she believes it ‘would be possible to exclude Watercare from the reforms on the basis that it already has many of the desired features of reform.’
“While reform is needed, one size does not fit all. The proposed governance arrangements have significant disadvantages for Auckland and will result in diminished accountability and responsiveness to those who use and fund these critical assets.”
Deputy Mayor Bill Cashmore says, “Auckland Council strongly prefers the current council-controlled model which delivers some of the best water quality in the country while seeing Aucklanders use less water per capita than in any other region.
“Using this model, Watercare could provide water management services or contract to the three northern councils as it already does successfully for the Waikato District Council.”
Watercare Liaison Councillor Linda Cooper says: “The three waters and other reforms risk fragmenting decision-making, planning and the provision of infrastructure for Auckland, with no requirement for the WSE to align with council’s budgets, priorities or processes.
“At the very least the government’s reform should hold off from taking stormwater functions at this time, until further assessment demonstrates that benefits outweigh costs from amalgamating the three waters under WSEs.”
Following the submissions period, a report from the government’s Finance Expenditure Committee will be due by 11 November.