Three Waters battle of local versus central


Brace yourselves, folks – there’s a fight coming.

Not locally, though there could be some (reasonably) polite dust-ups here as well, I’m picking. But the big fight will be nationwide and it will get ugly.

This fight’s about who will control vital services that let us live our modern lives. We’re talking Three Waters – drinking water, sewage and stormwater – and the increasingly unpopular idea that four companies will do a better job than councils.

In the Big Mother corner we’ve got the Government, telling us they know best and have the facts to prove it and that’s why they’re going to grab assets worth billions and set up four companies to run taps, drains, pipes and plants everywhere.

In the Little Brother corner, we’ve got more and more councils saying, “No way, Government! Your figures are dodgy and these assets should stay with the communities who paid for them”.

The Government’s saying we need higher standards and declaring what they’ll be. Councils say, “Wait a minute, let’s talk about these standards, then share the cost of meeting them”.

The Government wants every household in New Zealand (urban and rural) connected to a water and wastewater system; pipes and plants in other words. Councils say that’s daft and massively unaffordable.

Not if we’ve got we’ve mega-companies running things, the Government says. That’s the way to go and if you don’t like it, tough. We’ll do it anyway. We’ll set up these companies but say councils still “own” the assets.

Except that’s bollocks.

It will be ownership in name only. Councils won’t control or manage these companies. But saying they will means the Government saves lots of money. It will be able to “nationalise” community assets without fully paying for them.

So the Government wants to “nationalise” billions of dollars of assets. That’s what the fight’s about.

Who owns those assets? That’s one question.

And there’s a bigger one.

Who owns your future? The obvious answer is, you do.

Except you don’t. Not if the Government continues to force its plans and agendas upon us. Increasingly, Wellington is saying, “one size fits all” about everything. But it doesn’t, not always. Communities can find their own answers to problems. They have in the past. They should in the future. But will Big Mother let them?

The Government’s got two choices now. It can do what it’s done with the $748 million Auckland cycle bridge. It can ditch its Three Waters plans because the public doesn’t back them. Or it can ram those plans through regardless. It can share power or take power. It can work with councils to get the results it wants or ride roughshod over communities. Because it can. This is local versus central – that’s the battle.

What should you do now? That’s simple.

If you think Big Mother knows best, then tell the Minister, “Bring it on”. But if you want local choice and a local voice, tell the Government, “Naff off”. Say “No” to the asset grab.

If you think local people are as smart as the theory folk in Wellington; if you want to shape your own future and not have it shaped for you, then be sure every MP within earshot gets your message.

PS Congratulations to all the winners in the Oamaru Business Collective Awards and thanks to the Oamaru Mail for its support.

PPS Covid curses! Here we are, not a trace of a case in sight yet Waitaki’s trapped in Level 2 until further notice! Roll on Level 1. And remember, a jab’s the way to keep lockdowns at bay.

Jim Hopkins is a Waitaki district councillor for the Oamaru ward