Former Tauranga Mayor and president of Local Government New Zealand, Stuart Crosby, has moved to allay fears over a Heads of Agreement entered with the Crown in July relating to Three Waters Reform.
Several notable members of the Tauranga community have raised their concern over the agreement, signed by Crosby, Minister of Finance Grant Robertson and Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta.
Greg Brownless, another former Tauranga Mayor, has been critical of Crosby, particularly in relation to an article within the HOA which states: “LGNZ commits to supporting, endorsing and promoting the Three Waters Reform Programme.”
“LGNZ committed to support the case for change by agreeing there was sufficient evidence for it, expressing the view that the model design was sound and endorsing the financial package,” says Greg.
“The agreement stated that both parties recognised it would require all councils to participate. In other words, opting out was not a real option.
“Faced with a backlash, Stuart Crosby has called for a pause. LGNZ now says the government has made a hash of explaining its plan to reform water, and that detail is absent from its proposals. This new position contrasts with the earlier agreement accepting government’s proposal as sound.”
Crosby, however, says the HOA agreement is a new approach to working with government, and that it is refreshing for LGNZ to be in the room, rather than shouting from the sidelines on this topic.
He also highlights that the HOA does not bind councils across New Zealand to any agreement.
“It is between LGNZ and the government,” says Stuart. “Councils will make their own decisions after discussion with their communities and we respect that.”
The Crown acknowledges this within the agreement. LGNZ’s support and leadership on the matter “does not bind its members, and individual local authorities may determine to adopt a different position to LGNZ’s”.
Stuart accepts there is currently a “case for change” regarding water services in New Zealand, but it may not necessarily be the current proposal.
LGNZ have several issues with the current reform ideas, and also the communication of the proposal with councils and the community.
“The question is, is it this model?” asks Stuart.
“We see a lot of flaws in this model but there is a case for change. It is hard for the community to see 10, 20, 30 years ahead. But there will be significant investment required.
“Even for Tauranga, which has good systems, there is significant investment required over the next 30 years and this current model is not sustainable. There needs to be a really robust debate between councils and their community.”