Christchurch City Council is once again calling on the Government to re-think its approach to Three Waters Reform in its submissions on two bills.
The Council’s submissions raise concerns about the Government’s approach to reforming three waters, as well as the speed of the roll-out, and lack of meaningful engagement with impacted communities.
“We all agree there is a need for change in the way we deliver three waters but as a Council we’re not convinced this is the way to do it,” says Mayor Phil Mauger.
“These services are so important, and we’re really worried the Government is charging ahead without even acknowledging the glaring issues we’ve raised time and time again.
“I have written to the new Minister for Local Government to congratulate him, and invite him down to Christchurch. This is one thing we want to talk about, as it’s fundamental we sort it out together.”
The Water Services Legislation Bill sets out how the new water services entities will operate, including what they’re required to do, their regulatory powers, the tools they’ll use, and arrangements for the transition.
“We’ve repeatedly raised concerns about the transfer of integrated stormwater assets like wetlands and parks, and this Bill fails to provide clarity on how these will be dealt with,” says Mayor Mauger.
“We urge the Select Committee to reconsider the inclusion of stormwater infrastructure in the reform, as we have huge concerns about how this will work in practice.”
Through the submission the Council also reiterates concerns about the lack of public accountability in the governance structure for the four water services entities.
“Each of the four water services areas will have a regional representative group. In the past we’ve asked Government to strengthen local representation within these groups, but have seen no action to make this happen,” says Mayor Mauger.
The submission also points out a number of oversights in the Bill that could lead to the loss of public access to assets with mixed use, for example, recreational reserves that also play a role in stormwater management.
“We believe this could undermine the intention of reform, and we’re asking the Government to make changes to the legislation to ensure the public keep access to any affected assets,” says Mayor Mauger.
The Council questions whether the Government’s wider programme of reforms is aligned, and stresses that resource management and water reform legislation must work well together.
The Water Services Economic Efficiency and Consumer Protection Bill introduces the economic regulation and consumer protection measures for three waters. The Bill appoints the Commerce Commission as the economic and consumer protection regulator for the four new water services entities.
“This piece of legislation is key to ensuring our communities get good value for money and have protections in place if they’re unhappy with the services being provided,” says Mayor Mauger.
“Unfortunately, this Bill doesn’t give us that certainty as it defers responsibility to the Commerce Commission, which essentially kicks the can down the road.
“Legislation should ensure that the regulatory role played by the Commerce Commission is tailored to three waters services, and isn’t just a repetition of its role in other sectors.”
There is also a lack of clarity on the rules and regulations that will guide the operation of the water services entities. The Commerce Commission has until 2027 to put these in place, but the entities will be operational from mid-2024.
“Water services entities will need to hit the ground running and interim measures need to be considered if rules and regulations won’t be in place by 2024,” says Mayor Mauger.
Mayor Mauger and Councillors have worked alongside staff to produce these submissions, which are now available online and will be discussed at the 15 February council meeting.
“Public consultation on the Bills is open until 12 February so there is still time for people to put in their own submissions,” Mayor Mauger says.