Compelling case for change

1 Dec 2021

Following four years of research, policy work, and engagement with Local Government, Māori, and the water industry, the Government is pushing ahead with its Three Waters Reforms. Much of the transformational work lies ahead, as Three Waters Reform programme executive director Allan Prangnell explained in the latest edition of Water New Zealand's publication Water.

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta confirmed the Government will proceed with its plan to create four publicly owned water entities to assume responsibility for delivery of Three Waters services. The goal is to ensure all communities have safe, affordable, and sustainable drinking water services, and stormwater and wastewater networks that achieve good outcomes for the environment.

Allan Prangnall

This decision by Cabinet comes after four years of research and analysis of the intergenerational issues that have led to our current situation, scoping and modelling of reform options and testing these with councils, iwi and industry to make sure all perspectives have been considered.

Progress to reach this point is an achievement in itself and has required a great deal of input and work from a wide range of participants, including those working at the coalface of the Three Waters sector. The Government believes the case for change is compelling. This view has been formed in part by the input of your sector. We are having a robust public discussion about finer details of the plan we have developed in conjunction with the local government sector, Māori, industry, and other interested parties. This is as it should be. I would note however, there has been some misunderstanding about the Government’s plan, in some cases deliberately fanned.

Throughout this discussion, clear, factual, knowledgeable, and astute comment from the leadership of your sector and others deeply involved in providing Three Waters services has been a welcome and valuable contribution.

The success of our work from here will likewise depend in large part on your continuing involvement and engagement as we enter the two and half year transitional period before the new entities officially take on the responsibility for Three Waters Services in July 2024.

Further public participation to test and refine the reform plan will be open to all New Zealanders through the select committee process as the relevant legislation progresses through the parliamentary process.

Your ongoing expert input continues to be both welcome and vital.

Looking ahead a little further, I hope this message has now been heard: those currently working on the ground in water services activities for local authorities will have a job with the new entities on their current terms and conditions, and in the same location, if that is what they want.

We will need your knowledge, expertise and efforts over the months and years to come to ensure a smooth and efficient transition and to help develop the skills and abilities of the many additional people we will need as we embark on the massive programme of investment in our Three Waters systems. 

A National Transition Unit is being established to implement the Government’s decisions on the Three Waters reform.  However, we know the last18 months have been a busy and stressful time for the local government and the water services sector.

We want to give you time to process these changes, and to enjoy your summer, before we commence working alongside you to create the new water services entities.

Before Christmas, we will share with the sector information on the sorts of conversations we’ll have in 2022. This will include the topics we’ll be looking to engage with you on, when we plan to do it, and how you can reach us with any questions you might have.

It is worth emphasising again that our plan depends on retaining the Three Waters expertise built up by councils within
the new entities.

A key feature of the new arrangements is those working in the sector will have more resources and will be joined by additional colleagues as they get on with the job. Importantly, they will have leadership with a dedicated focus and mandate to improve and strengthen our Three Waters infrastructure.

The evidence is clear that as a nation, our Three Waters system requires a substantial and costly overhaul and upgrade. By working together to improve our management of the sector, to access more resources and to improve strategic decisionmaking, every community can benefit.

It’s taken much hard work to get to this point and we should take a moment to recognise the progress made. However, we should be under no illusion there is much more do over the next two and half years and beyond.
Significant reform of the sector to enable a massive, well overdue programme of investment in our infrastructure is no
trivial exercise.

I’m confident we have a good plan, the resources and the expertise to ensure that together we can drive this project forward to support intergenerational well-being and protection of the environment.

This article was published in the November/December issue of Water.