Sayers ready to defend Auckland water assets

17 August 2021. Published: Mahurangi Matters newspaper. Rodney councillor Greg Sayers has vowed to “fiercely resist” any government moves to force councils to accept its three waters reform programme, saying such an action would be “totally unconstitutional”.

Cr Sayers remarks follow a Government proposal which would radically change the ownership and control of New Zealand’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems.

Under the Government’s proposal, Auckland’s water assets, and debt, would be taken over by a new water services entity that would cover Auckland as well as other northern regional councils such as Kaipara and Whangarei District Councils.

Currently, the Auckland Council controlled organisation Watercare manages Auckland’s drinking and wastewater, while an internal Council unit, Healthy Waters, is responsible for stormwater.

Cr Sayers has numerous concerns about the Three Waters Reform saying the new water services entity could favour the funding of projects in poorer northern councils ahead of Auckland’s needs.

Cr Sayers is also concerned that Maori would have equal rights in overseeing water services.

“The new water company would be 50 per cent owned by mana whenua and 50 per cent by ratepayers, of which Auckland ratepayers would have only a 35 per cent stake,” he says.

He says this risks creating a new water entity that is unresponsive to the communities it serves and would remove Auckland Council’s ability to ensure that Aucklanders’ needs are put first.

He adds there is also the question of how well the new entity will be able to coordinate with Auckland Transport and other agencies around maintenance work and new project builds.

Then there is the potential hit to the pocket. The Government plans to allow the new water entity to be able to borrow significantly more money to fund the $120 billion to $185 billion it feels is required to compensate for historic underinvestment.

“It is unclear if water rates would increase for Aucklanders to service this increased debt,” Cr Sayers says.

He says the Government has given councils until the end of September to consider the proposals and decide whether to opt for the reform package. However, Cr Sayers says the Government could still make it mandatory.

“I will certainly fiercely resist any move towards any compulsory takeover of Council’s publicly owned assets,” he says.

“The water assets that they are talking about have been paid for by ratepayers, not by Government, and as such any change must be publicly consulted on and agreed to.

“It is called democracy.”