Kaipara District Council (KDC) has written a letter to Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta refusing to engage in consultation on its proposed Three Waters reforms until it has some clear answers.
The Government is proposing to transfer ownership and control of drinking, storm and wastewater assets to a centralised northern water entity.
As the Government’s proposal stands, KDC would have no guaranteed input into its governance. In the letter, Mayor Jason Smith argues that Kaipara should be given at least one of the six council dedicated seats on the governing board.
Dr Smith also asks for clarification on how communities will be consulted on local decisions and projects.
“We give good engagement on key water projects, and this core function of local democracy needs to be protected,” he writes.
The letter says that Kaipara residents are particularly attuned to matters of local democracy and water, as its council was previously replaced by commissioners for the longest period in New Zealand history, largely as a result of water infrastructure debt.
According to the letter, Kaipara council still has not received clarification from the Government about whether the new water entity would take on Council’s water-related debts and not just its assets.
Kaipara’s situation is more complicated than that of other councils because it manages 200km of drainage networks, having never passed them over to Northland Regional Council.
KDC says it was initially attracted to the idea of larger metropolitan councils subsidising smaller districts, but notes that Auckland and Whangarei Councils have publicly rejected this concept.
Dr Smith writes that despite being the major voice of the proposed new northern water entity, Auckland Council has refused to liaise with Northland councils, instead dealing only with Government.
“To Kaipara, this process feels lopsided and uneven, and it is difficult to envisage a balanced and equitable outcome from this point,” he says.
The letter concludes by saying that Council does not have sufficient information to consult with its ratepayers on the issue “authentically and with integrity”.
In a Council meeting last month, councillors used stronger language in opposition to the proposed reforms.
Cr Victoria Del La Varis-Woodcock said the reforms were an erosion of local democracy. Cr Peter Wethey agreed, saying he was “outside the tent”.
Meanwhile, Cr Anna Curnow said the reforms may yet be forced on councils through legislation and it would be better for Kaipara council to provide feedback while it still could. Mayor Jason Smith agreed, but said he was far from supporting it.
“Let me be clear, I deplore this. It’s a political project being led by the Government and it’s theirs to sell, not ours,” he said.
“We are all but pawns in this game.”