Central/Local Government Three Waters Reform Programme

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See also: Three Waters Review
Taumata Arowai

Background

Over the past three years, central and local government have been considering solutions to challenges facing delivery of three waters services to communities.

This has seen the development of new legislation and the creation of Taumata Arowai, the new Water Services Regulator, to oversee and enforce a new drinking water regulatory framework, with an additional oversight role for wastewater and stormwater networks.

While addressing the regulatory issues, both central and local government acknowledge that there are broader challenges facing local government water services and infrastructure, and the communities that fund and rely on these services.

There has been underinvestment in three waters infrastructure in parts of the country and persistent affordability issues;  along with the need for additional investment to meet improvements in freshwater outcomes, increase resilience to climate change and natural hazards, and enhance community wellbeing.

In July 2020, the Government announced a funding package of $761 million to provide immediate post-COVID-19 stimulus to local authorities to maintain and improve three waters (drinking water, wastewater, stormwater) infrastructure, and to support reform of local government water services delivery arrangements.

The Government has indicated that its starting intention is public multi-regional models for water service delivery to realise the benefits of scale for communities and reflect neighbouring catchments and communities of interest. There is a preference that entities will be in shared ownership of local authorities.  Design of the proposed new arrangements will be  informed by discussion with the local government sector.

There is a shared understanding that a partnership approach between Central and Local Government  will best support the wider community interests, and ensure that any transition to new service delivery arrangements is well managed and as smooth as possible.  This has led to the formation of a joint Three Waters Steering Committee to provide oversight and guidance on three waters services delivery and infrastructure reform.

Three Waters Steering Committee

At the recent Central/Local Government Forum, central and local government leadership discussed challenges facing New Zealand’s water service delivery and infrastructure, and committed to working jointly on reform.

The Joint Three Waters Steering Committee has been established to provide oversight and guidance to support progress towards reform, and to assist in engaging with local government, iwi/Māori and other water sector stakeholders on options and proposals.

The Steering Committee comprises independent chair Brian Hanna, local government mayors, chairs and chief executives, representatives of Local Government New Zealand and the Society of Local Government Managers, officials and advisors from the Department of Internal Affairs, Taumata Arowai, and the Treasury.

The Steering Committee will ensure that the perspectives, interests and expertise of both central and local government, and of communities throughout New Zealand are considered, while the challenges facing water services and infrastructure are addressed. This will include periods of engagement, in the first instance with the local government sector. an overviiew is provided below.

The Steering Committee is supported by a secretariat made up of advisors and officials from Local Government New Zealand, the Society of Local Government Managers, the Department of Internal Affairs, and the Treasury. This secretariat is hosted by the Department of Internal Affairs, and can be contacted via email at: 3waterssteeringgroup@dia.govt.nz

Reform programme and funding package

In July 2020, the Government announced funding to provide immediate post-COVID-19 stimulus to maintain and improve water networks infrastructure, and to support a three-year programme of reform of local government water services delivery arrangements.

Central and Local Government consider it is timely to apply targeted infrastructure stimulus investment to enable improvements to water service delivery, progress reform in partnership, and ensure the period of economic recovery following COVID-19 supports a transition to a productive, sustainable economy.

While the Government’s starting intention is for publicly-owned multi-regional models for water service delivery, with a preference for local authority ownership, final decisions on a service delivery model will be informed by discussion with the local government sector and the work of the Steering Committee.

Initial funding will be made available immediately to those councils that sign up to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and associated Funding Agreement and Delivery Plan for the first stage of the Three Waters Services Reform Programme. 

The Reform Programme is designed to support economic recovery post COVID-19 and address persistent systemic issues facing the three waters sector, through a combination of:

  • stimulating investment, to assist economic recovery through job creation, and maintain investment in water infrastructure renewals and maintenance; and 
  • reforming current water service delivery, into larger scale providers, to realise significant economic, public health, environmental, and other benefits over the medium to long term.

Sector Engagement

In addition to working with the Steering Committee, there will be an ongoing programme of engagement with local government, Iwi/Māori, the wider water services sector, and communities of interest throughout the transformation programme.

Initial engagement will begin in July/August 2020 with local government and iwi/Māori partners to discuss the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and associated Funding Agreement and Delivery Plan.  This first engagement provides a forum for councils considering signing up to the reform programme to raise issues and work through questions ahead of signing the MoU. See key documents below for presentation materials from these workshops.

Signing the Memorandum of Understanding commits councils to engage with the reform programme and share information but does not require them to continue with future stages of the reform.

Beyond this, we will continue ad-hoc sessions and webinars, targeted engagement and formal information-sharing sessions with local government, iwi/Māori, water service providers and interested parties as we progress the reform programme.

Iwi/Māori interests

Over the past three years central and local government have been considering solutions to challenges facing three waters services delivered to communities. We held a series of hui and workshops with iwi/Māori as part of this, through the Three Waters Review and the establishment of Taumata Arowai. The progress of the proposed reform requires further engagement with iwi/Māori to more fully understand Treaty rights of interests over the course of the reform period.

A range of engagements are proposed over the next 6-12 months both directly through central government and in partnership with local government. If you would like to be included in communication regarding this hui, please contact: threewaters@dia.govt.nz

Key Documents

Cabinet Papers and Minutes

Updates from the Steering Committee

Media Releases

Contact us

If you have any queries, please email: 3waterssteeringgroup@dia.govt.nz

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