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Patterson backing shareholding plan

Lyn Patterson said councils, on behalf of their communities, will own all the shares in the new Water Service Entities, through a public shareholding model. PHOTO/FILE 

The Three Waters Working Group has put forward 47 recommendations to the government, including creating a public shareholding model for the four water service entities.

This means councils would own all the shares of each water service entity, if the recommendation is accepted by the government.

In October 2021, Cabinet agreed to progress the Three Waters reforms so that drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater services would be provided by four publicly-owned water service entities [WSE] from July 2024.

These WSEs would take over the responsibilities for water service delivery from local authorities.

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson, who is a member of the Three Waters Working Group, said the issues around ownership of the assets, privatisation, and local voice were of real concern across the local government sector and the public.

“These issues have been addressed in the working group recommendations.

“Councils, on behalf of their communities, will own all the shares in the new water service entities, through a public shareholding model.

“This also strengthens protection against privatisation, because privatisation can’t happen unless every shareholder council agrees.”

The shares would be proportionate to the populations of each council, not the value of their assets.

The working group recommended one share for each 50,000 people in a territorial authority area, rounded up.

By this, Carterton, South Wairarapa, and Masterton district councils would each own one of a total of 35 shares in entity C [8 per cent ownership].

These shares are split among 21 councils in entity C.

Wellington City Council, which would be the biggest shareholder in entity C, would own five shares [14 per cent].

As shareholding owners of the water service entities, each territorial authority would be required to vote on any proposal for the entity to be sold or privatised.

The proposal would only proceed if there was unanimous shareholder approval.

The shareholdings would evolve with the population and be reset every five years.

Patterson said having a local voice at the table had been improved through the recommendation of the establishment of sub-groups for local voices to have input.

These local-voice sub-groups would inform the regional representatives group, which governs the WSE.

The working group was supportive of the 50/50 co-governance model between iwi and councils.

The working group also unanimously supported the principle of Te Mana o Te Wai because the health and well-being of waterways was a key underlying principle of the reforms.

When asked how she found the parameters of the working group, Patterson said she had not found them restrictive.

“I support the principles of good governance, Treaty partnership, and public ownership, and have therefore not found the government bottom lines restrictive.”

She said this would be “transformational reform” and that the government would need to engage and communicate with the public to ensure there was a better understanding of the case for change.

“More than 50 mayors and chairs signed the Local Government Leaders Water Declaration in 2017, that included the three Wairarapa mayors.

“The local government sector acknowledge that the status quo for the three waters is no longer working.

“If the recommendations are accepted, they will significantly improve the proposals contained in the government’s draft exposure bill and that will benefit all rural and provincial councils.”

Other recommendations include the establishment of a Water Ombudsman and consensus voting at the regional representative group level with a 75 per cent majority backstop vote.— NZLDR

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