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‘Wait and see’ on water approach

Water is flushed from Martinborough’s water mains. The town’s 2019 E.coli scare brought New Zealand’s infrastructure crisis into sharp focus in Wairarapa. PHOTO/FILE.



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Two Wairarapa councils are taking a wait and see approach to central government’s multi-billion-dollar plumbing plans.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a massive funding package for New Zealand’s waterworks on Wednesday.

The proposals included a first cut of $761 million for local authorities to fund waterworks in their areas.

It put forward incentives for sector reform proposals and additional water infrastructure funding, as part of a much larger programme of works across all the nation’s infrastructure.

Part of the Three Waters plan encourages further collaboration between councils to trim costs.

Estimates put the work needed to update pipes around the country for drinking, storm, and wastewater in the billions of dollars.

The programme accelerated following the 2016 Havelock North water crisis, and received focus in Wairarapa last year following the E.coli scare in Martinborough.

South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] has already taken steps along a similar track. SWDC signed up with the Wellington Water conglomerate last year.

Each member council owns shares in WW, but also pays a significant management fee for services.

SWDC chief Harry Wilson told the Times-Age this week that “a small council joining as part of a collaboration has only had very positive effects for our ratepayers”.

“We became a shareholder in Wellington Water for the very same reason, to make sure we have the scale and expertise to support local delivery.

“Our experience to date is that, given the context, [it] has been a very wise and prudent decision.

“Having their expertise when we’ve needed it, we’ve really appreciated their advice, the speed of their delivery and their response.”

Carterton and Masterton district councils have, to date, resisted joining their Wellington regional neighbours in the WW stable.

The central government announcement again raised shared services across Wairarapa and beyond on the table.

But both Carterton and Masterton were on the fence about their water infrastructure future.

Carterton Mayor Greg Lang said the council’s main priority when it comes to water “has always been – and will continue to be – providing safe drinking water in the most cost-effective way possible”.

Lang said the announcement “provides a great opportunity for local councils to take part in the process, while recognising the impact water has on local government decision-making and day-to-day operations.

“It’s still early days and we will continue to participate in the options being progressed by central government before making any decisions.”

A Masterton District Council spokesperson said council was up to date with the proposals and considering options.

WW committee chair David Bassett said it welcomed the plans.

“Here in the Wellington region, additional funding would enable us to get under way with key new infrastructure projects and build them concurrently. This means we would all secure the benefits of an improved water network sooner.”

Mr Bassett said WW had been involved throughout the Three Waters Review process, and facilitated discussions with councils in the wider region about different reform options.

“The decisions and investments we make now are not just about next year, or the next ten years, but will also determine the quality of water services our great-grandchildren will experience.”

The new national water regulator, Taumata Arowai, will work with mana whenua and local authorities, Bassett said. Legislation to set up the organisation is progressing through parliament. It will be charged with managing standards for water supplies.

Councillors and council officers across the country attended a Department of Internal Affairs “webinar” on the proposals on Thursday.





Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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