Answers at last on three waters

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It’s taken six months but Ashburton District Council has received answers to questions submitted as part of the proposed three waters reform.

The Government is proposing to shift the current 67 council-owned and operated three waters services into four new publicly-owned entities to manage the future delivery of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater.

The new entities will be publicly-owned by councils on behalf of communities and will have a joint strategic direction and regional representative groups made up of local government and Maori.

They will be financially separate from councils.

A letter dated March 7 from the Department of Internal Affairs thanked council for its feedback on three waters and gave answers to 17 questions submitted last September.

The questions included how the Ashburton community could have guaranteed influence over its three waters services in the future, how the community voice will be heard and the inclusion of stormwater in the reform proposals.

The letter also updated council on the current status of the reform process and proposals.

Council chief executive Hamish Riach told councillors at a recent meeting the largest area of feedback on three waters related to the representation, governance and accountability of the new entities.

A transition unit would be set up in each of the four entities to support the change over.

Independent boards would run the day-to-day management of the entities, Mr Riach said.

Regional groups were proposed and also sub-regional groups that offered stronger links to local communities.

Mr Riach said there was no guarantee Ashburton would have a representative role, and if it did, that role could cover a wider area than just this district.

The proposed reforms will be implemented through a series of legislation that is expected to be introduced to Parliament in the middle of this year.

The Government will consider the recommendations of three working groups and once the Bill is introduced the public, including councils, will be able to submit on it through written and oral submissions to the Select Committee.

Mr Riach said he could see significant issues with staffing when council was called upon to co-operate and provide information for the transition and transfer of assets.

It would affect key staff across a number of areas of business and was likely to have consequences for “business as usual” operations.

Ashburton mayor Neil Brown said the reforms needed more time to get a regulator in place.

A pause was needed, as was a relationship rebuild with mana whenua, so that everyone was on the same page.