Joint Three Waters Reform Steering Committee Update, 26 November 2020

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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, and should be shared with your colleagues as appropriate (more information on the Steering Committee is provided at the bottom of this email*).

Final Steering Committee meeting of 2020

On Monday 30 November, the Steering Committee is scheduled to meet for the final time this year.

This meeting agenda is extremely full as we work to progress key pieces of the programme into the final weeks of the year. The Minister of Local Government is also scheduled to attend this Steering Committee meeting following the first meeting of Three Waters Ministers for this term of Government.

As signalled in last week’s update, this meeting will be informed by feedback from the technical reference group meetings held on 23 November. An overview of the areas of focus from these reference group meetings is below.

System Design Reference Group

How various consumer and community interests in the water sector are dealt with in Aotearoa currently and how they could be reflected in entity design and system design.

Entity governance and ownership and what role councils could play in entities and what councils will be left with after reform.

Questions/challenges relating to dividend payments to councils.

The interface between entities and planning system with focus on investment priorities of entities and what oversight there will be over entities decisions

Water Infrastructure Technical Group

Entity design and council control and financial sustainability, with a focus on the benefits to consumers of the reforms (and the cost of not participating).

The interface between entities and planning system, with focus on potential mechanisms to set priorities for entities nationally and regionally.

The role of entities in the provision of stormwater services (noting the complexity of stormwater) and the need for flexibility between entities around whether take on stormwater (and how much of it) the timeframe for this transition, and the impacts of this on the local government workforce.

We anticipate our update next week will give some indications of how the Committee is progressing this work leading into the New Year.

First instalment of stimulus funding

As at midday 26 November 2020, 42 councils have received their initial funding instalment (50% of their total allocation).

Remaining councils will receive their initial funding instalment once they have returned appropriate documentation to the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA). 

A reminder to those councils that have not yet received their payment to ensure you have returned the signed addendum and invoiced the Department for this payment.

Queries about this may be sent to the Department’s Three Waters inbox:

Update on the Request for Information process

The Water Industry Commission for Scotland (WICS) and SOLGM Account Managers supporting councils to complete the Request for Information have been holding regular meetings with council staff over the last month.

The RfI support team has observed that councils in the representative sample completing the more detailed RfI are generally tracking well. This reflects that these councils are resourcing this RfI well.

The support team is looking to set up some additional meetings with those councils completing the second (smaller) workbook to ensure they are also well placed to complete the RfI.

Some councils have already submitted draft pages of their workbooks to the team and this is encouraged. Submitting draft pages of the workbooks enables an early sense-check from the DIA/WICS team.

This will assist in refining the information provided and provide insights that may assist these councils in completing the remaining RfI.

The Steering Committee has heard the quality of these draft responses has been high and would like to commend this effort from the sector in committing to advance the quality of our knowledge and understanding of the system.

The final RfI is due on 1 February 2021.

Emerging lessons from the RfI

This week we invited Tasman District Council and Watercare (which completed a similar benchmarking process with WICS earlier this year) to share their reflections on the early stages of the RfI process at the weekly drop-in clinic. High-level reflections included:

  • The importance of having an internal co-ordinator who knows your organisation. This co-ordination function enables an internal sense-check of information and should be supported by key staff from across the business who know their systems and understand the relevant data. This preferable to relying on contractors to complete the RfI.
  • Treating the project as a council-wide programme with appropriate project management structures will help ensure deadlines are met. And,
  • Being comfortable with providing a ‘best-guess’ response with a low confidence grade rather than attempting to get the data 100% accurate in the short time available.

These are just some examples of good practice the SOLGM Account Managers are seeing across the country with a variety of great approaches being taken to progress the RfI.

Next formal engagement on the reform programme

We appreciate you will likely already be planning your diary commitments for early-2021.

At their meeting on 30 November, as part of a busy agenda, Steering Committee members will discuss a proposed approach for the next set of formal engagements on the reforms.

Programme timelines suggest that hui/workshops will take place during March. If possible, we will be wanting to set down and communicate associated dates for local government and iwi/Māori ahead of the Christmas break.

The Steering Committee will work to ensure these engagements take account of key sector events during March.

Looking forward (changes from last week’s update are in bold)

DIA officials will be supporting the Minister of Local Government to take a paper to Cabinet on the Three Waters Reform Programme ahead of Christmas.

This paper will seek Cabinet direction on the key milestones and timetable for reform, including a further significant round of sector and iwi/Māori engagement around March 2021.

The Committee hopes to be able to communicate key dates for the next set of formal engagements ahead of the Christmas break.

Steering Committee and Reform Programme priorities for the next three months include:

  • Release of remaining Three Waters stimulus funding
  • Supporting councils to complete the Request for Information, with an eye to having councils in a good state ahead of the Christmas break
  • Proposed approach to community consultation and councils’ decision making on reform proposals, including implications for LTPs
  • Identifying and understanding options for ownership, governance and control arrangements for water services entities
  • Development of advice on water entities interface with the planning system
  • Financial consideration for transfer of water services assets & debt and implications for local government finances
  • Further work to support decisions about the number and boundaries of water services entities
  • Ongoing engagement on the reform programme, including planning the next series of formal workshops/hui timed for March 2021.

*The Joint Three Waters Steering Committee

The Committee was formed following agreement, at the Prime Minister’s Central/Local Government Forum in mid-May, between senior Government Ministers and LGNZ’s National Council to work in partnership towards three waters service delivery reform.

It comprises Mayors, Chief Executives, Regional Council and Te Maruata representation as well as the Society of Local Government Managers, Local Government New Zealand, the Department of Internal Affairs, and the Treasury.

The Committee provides oversight and guidance and works to ensure that a broad range of interests and perspectives are considered through the reform process.

These updates are posted to the Three Waters Reform webpage where you will also find key documents relating to the Steering Committee’s work and to the overall three waters reform programme:  


Ngā mihi,


Three Waters Steering Committee