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Three Waters reform changes don’t go far enough

The government’s ‘reset’ announcement for the Three Waters reform (now called Affordable Water) has seen only minor tweaks to the entity model, while doing nothing to answer concerns around community property rights and meaningful local voice.

The Government has increased the number of entities from four to 10 to try and address concerns about the local voice of rural towns being overlooked. However, Mayor Adrienne is still concerned that the ownership aspect and governance structure remains unchanged, leaving communities at arm’s length from any decision making.

"The entity we're part of mirrors the Waikato Regional Council area and the benefit of this is we already work well with these Councils. The move to 10 entities means we're now guaranteed a seat on the Regional Representative Group, but this doesn't address the ownership issue or our ability to influence the decision making. It's also unclear what the trade-offs are with having more entities and we won’t know what the full impact of these changes are to our communities until amendments to the Bill are drafted. “

“This announcement has provided some clarity in the short term but the waters are still pretty murky.”

The government's $1.5 billion Better Off funding package that was offered to Councils early on as a sweetener has been affected by this announcement. Matamata-Piako District Council's share was $17.27 million and was to be received in two payments. The first payment of $4.32 million has been made and will be unaffected but there will be no second payment.

"Having more water service entities increases the establishment costs and it makes sense not to burden the entities further by having them borrow more money to pay the Better Off funding back. The second tranche of the Better Off funding was a double-edged sword to start with because this funding was always going to land on the entity's books and the cost of repaying it would be passed onto the rate payers. It didn't sit well with us."

“With this looking like an election issue it could be some time before we have certainty and in the meantime, we're committed to continuing to invest in our Three Waters infrastructure. We've started scoping the upgrade of Matamata’s Waste Water Treatment Plant and good progress is being made on the Morrinsville Lockerbie water supply and treatment plant to give greater resilience to the town's water supply. If we don't continue to invest it will be the residents that suffer - regardless of who has responsibility for these assets in future."

The government plan to have the new legislation in place before this year's general election, and now expect the entities to be fully operational from mid 2026, rather than mid 2024.