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Three Waters repeal will not affect Whanganui, Rangitīkei and Ruapehu districts’ Long Term Plans, mayors say


The new Raetihi Water Treatment Plant that came online in August 2018 at the cost of $2.5m. Photo/ Ruapehu District Council

Mayors of the Whanganui, Rangitīkei and Ruapehu districts say the new Government’s plan to repeal the Three Waters legislation will not affect the process of putting together their Long Term Plans.

Local Government Minister Simeon Brown has confirmed the Government will repeal the previous government’s Three Waters scheme early next year.

Brown has written to mayors and council chief executives informing them of the decision and the key principles of its Local Water Done Well policy, which has started further development.

He said the repeal of Three Waters would include a provision to address immediate challenges faced by councils which were preparing 2024-2034 Long Term Plans (LTPs) under the previous government’s settings.

It would allow the councils flexibility in setting those plans.

Whanganui Mayor Andrew Tripe said Whanganui District Council’s preparations would not be affected by the repealing of Three Waters, as any contracts formed would not have kicked in before July 1, 2024, when the plan would be implemented.

“But in saying that, as part of our Long Term Plan, we’re continuing to maintain and go through an asset replacement programme anyway, so we’re just getting on with things,” Tripe said.

An independent report found Whanganui’s Three Waters assets exceeded expectations, so the district’s infrastructure was in good order, he said.

“Our wastewater treatment plant is in good order, our drinking water will just carry on as usual, and also, our stormwater will just carry on as per usual.”

He had fought against Three Waters through his mayoral campaign and mayoralty as he believed local government needed to maintain control, ownership and decision-making regarding water assets.

The key principles of National’s replacement policy aligned with these ideas.

“It means that there will be the ability to have what I campaigned for and what our community sought,” Tripe said.

The proposed legislation included the option for councils to voluntarily amalgamate their water services, and the Government expected this to happen in areas where it made economic sense.

Tripe said the council was considering possible amalgamation options.

“We’re currently working with other mayors and chief executives around the Horizons [Regional Council] region to explore how that may play out.”

Currently, the district council owns and manages the water assets alone.

Other options under the new legislation would include a regional model with neighbouring districts under the Horizons region or a sub-regional model between Whanganui, Ruapehu and Rangitīkei.

“We could even go broader in an inter-regional [model] and partner with Taranaki,” Tripe said.

“There are different models, and we’re just doing some sensitivity analysis on those different models.”

Rangitīkei Mayor Andy Watson said his council was working to fully understand the legislation’s key principles.

“However, as a council, we decided to include all of the Three Waters in our Long Term Plan, so we have funded it right throughout our LTP,” Watson said.

This meant the change in legislation would not affect the council’s plans.

Watson and the council’s water asset staff will meet this week to discuss their interpretation of the change in legislation.

Ruapehu Mayor Weston Kirton said the repeal both did and did not affect the council’s LTP process, as while the change had been put into consideration, they had put together the plan based on the status quo.

“Until the legislation is altered or repealed, all we can do is have the worst scenario with the existing Three Waters [legislation],” Kirton said.

“The Three Waters issue is not by any means resolved, and we can’t take into consideration or pre-empt anything that alters our planning, so we’ve just gone ahead as if we still own the assets.”

The council could not plan for or form a set position on the replacement policy until it was released with the full details.

“Having said all that, we’re obviously conscious of the fact that our council, along with many other councils, is heavily in debt through having to manage the new compliance measures and legislation.

“We took the initiative early on to build infrastructure and water upgrades and the like to anticipate some kind of return of capital further down the track, and it hasn’t transpired … there’s no indication from the new Government that they’re going to repay debt.”

He said there were mixed feelings about whether the water infrastructure should remain fully council-owned and how work with any potential new entity would unfold, but any decision would be made some time in the future.

“All we’re talking about is actually how it’s going to unfold in terms of the Three Waters and how we actually work through that with some entity,” he said.

This article was republished courtesy of NZME. Finn Williams is a multi-media journalist for the Whanganui Chronicle. He joined the Chronicle in early 2022 and regularly covers stories about business, events and emergencies. He also enjoys writing opinion columns on whatever interests him.