Three Waters Steering Committee Update -  29 April 2021

Return to: Three Waters Reform Programme

Tēnā koutou katoa,

This email from the joint Central/Local Government Three Waters Steering Committee has been sent to Mayors, Chairs, and Chief Executives only (more information on the Steering Committee is provided at the bottom of this email*).

Please distribute this information within your council

It is important for elected members and council staff to have access to the available information on the reform process and to be updated regularly on developments.

We ask that you cascade this information internally but understand that you may wish to supplement our updates with your own communications.

Future for Local Government Review

Over the last year of engagements on the Three Waters Reform Programme, a key concern raised by the local government sector has been: “What is the future for local government following the water reforms?”

At these engagements, a strong message has been delivered that there needs to be a way forward on this question in parallel to, if not ahead of, the Three Waters Reforms.

On Friday, 23 April, the Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta announced an independent review of the Future for Local Government.

At the announcement (made in conjunction with LGNZ and Taituarā), Minister Mahuta said it was clear the current work programmes to overhaul three waters and resource management would significantly affect local government’s traditional roles and functions.

The Minister noted the sector had called for a review of what local government should look like to make sure it is fit for the future.

The Minister also emphasised the review as an opportunity to address calls for reform from Māori and recommendations from the Waitangi Tribunal to ensure the Treaty relationship is fully provided for through the local government system.

As a starting point the review will consider what local government does, how it does it and how it pays for it.

From there, they will explore what local government’s future looks like, including:

roles, functions and partnerships

representation and governance

funding and financing.

The review panel is chaired by Jim Palmer who is joined by John Ombler QSO, Antoine Coffin, Gael Surgenor and Penny Hulse. As most in the sector will know Jim Palmer has a long history in and intimate knowledge of the sector, including most recently as chief executive of Waimakariri District Council.

The panel is to produce an interim report in September this year which will set out the probable direction of the review. This will be followed by a draft report for public consultation in September 2022, and a final report in April 2023.

The review’s terms of reference are attached and are available here: Future for Local Government Review.

Reform programme workshops

Work on a summary report on our March engagement workshops is in its final stages.

The report will summarise some of the key themes that emerged during the workshops.

We will post the report on the Reform Programme webpage and email it through to participants as soon as it is available.

The presentation materials and pre-workshop webinar recordings are available on the reform programme webpage here: Engagement Materials

Your feedback and reflections at these workshops have been fed back to the Steering Committee and the team at the Department of Internal Affairs, to inform the evolving advice.

Ongoing engagements

We continue to engage on elements of the reforms as we progress the Reform Programme.

Since the March engagements, the Department have held meetings with a number of iwi/hapū and local government fora to build on the conversations held at March workshops.

On 28 April, the two Technical Reference Groups* met to discuss key elements of the reform programme including: the economic impact of the reforms, size and boundary considerations, transition and establishment, engagement with international rating agencies

The Department’s next Stormwater reference group is scheduled to meet on 4 May and the Te Ao Māori technical working group hui is scheduled for 6 May 2021. 

WaterNZ have also hosted the Department for two workshops with water sector professionals through their Water Services Managers Group (WSMG) and Water Utilities Association (WUA) collectives. These workshops have enabled a deeper discussion on elements on the transition and implementation programme of work. 

Looking forward

A key focus of the Steering Committee at present is contributing towards advice to Ministers. This includes testing policy progress and positions, including the evidence base supporting the case for change, initial thinking on potential transition arrangements, and other reform design elements. 

While it is anticipated that decisions on the reform proposals will be taken by Cabinet in mid-2021, exact timings are subject to Government timetables.

The Steering Committee will be working to ensure that decisions are communicated in a timely and appropriate manner.

As you know, the Three Waters Reform Programme has an ambitious timetable with a busy programme ahead. The proposed Reform timeline agreed to by Cabinet, but also subject to Government decisions, is available online. This timeline, discussed at the recent workshops, is copied again below for your reference

 Reform timeline 2021

Useful resources

  • Information relating to the Steering Committee’s work and the Three Waters Reform Programme can be found here
  • Information relating to the RfI process can be found here
  • Information covering the earlier work of the Three Waters Review can be found here
  • Information relating to the establishment of Taumata Arowai can be found here


* Technical Reference Groups

  • The System Design Group is a senior reference group, the role of which is to test issues around overall system and institutional design, entity purpose, ownership, governance, accountability, funding models, etcetera. It has a membership drawn from chief executives, chief financial officers, chief legal officers and tier 2 infrastructure managers.
  • The Water Infrastructure Technical Group is a technical advisory group comprising of water infrastructure experts to test more technical issues related to the reform programme. Membership includes asset managers, water engineers and other experts with knowledge of three waters assets and finances with a mix of experts from the water sector, service providers and councils.


Ngā mihi,

Three Waters Steering Committee