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Waikato Herald - 2021-11-26

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Hamilton councillors split over waters tack

News

Danielle Zollickhofer

Hamilton City Council is divided on a suitable response to the Government’s Three Waters reform mandate. Over 30 councils, including Waipa, South Waikato district, Matamatapiako and Waikato District Council have joined Waimakariri District Council in Canterbury in signing a letter to the Prime Minister asking the Government to put an immediate pause on the reform. Hamilton City Council decided not to sign Waimakariri’s letter and to instead write its own letter to Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta. Mayor Paula Southgate says Hamilton has clearly voiced its frustration about the mandate. “If Government can deliver a proposal that delivers better outcomes for ratepayers, Hamilton will be happy to see it. Until then, we’ll reserve judgment.” Councillor Mark Bunting says this stance wasn’t strong enough and feels Hamilton should have joined Waimarakriri. “We have been too polite . . . It would have sent a stronger message to sign a joint letter addressed to the Prime Minister . . . but Hamilton seems to think we do better alone.” HCC’S letter reinforces that the council doesn’t support the current plan and the Government’s preferred ownership model and instead ask for consideration of other models, including options that include explicit council control of water assets. Hamilton also wants support for councils to undertake and fund consultation with the community before any select committee process. Bunting says this was nothing but a sternly worded letter. “I’m sure we will send tremors through the Government like that . . . It’s just ridiculous. We have yet again taken a very weak stance. I think [HCC’S] letter is ineffective and don’t think we will get a response.” In Waimakariri’s letter, Mayor Dan Gordon asks for a meeting with the Prime Minister to address Three Waters reform, express the council’s views and seek more viable approaches to the reform. He says the councils would agree that quality drinking water and better environmental outcomes are essential and support the new regulator and coming regulations. “What we don’t support is the flawed and now forced four-entity model when there are a number of alternative and viable delivery models ” Bunting says while Hamilton’s councillors generally get along very well, they were split on Three Waters reform. “We lost the vote by one. This shows it’s not just one single person against everybody. It annoys me that [the opposing councillors] say that they are against the Three Waters Reform as well because if they really were, they would take stronger action. It’s just crocodile tears.” The councillors voting in favour of joining Waimakariri District Council’s letter were Deputy Mayor Geoff Taylor, councillors Ewan Wilson, Angela O’leary, Kesh Naidoo-rauf, Mark Donovan and Bunting himself. In a social media post Bunting wrote he still loves and respects his colleagues, but “To me, this decision is about as embarrassing as it was watching some councillors try to pronounce ‘Waimakiriri — or whatever it’s called’ during debate, or the mayor deciding to talk right over my debate speech to find out the time, but that’s for another day.” O’leary argued strongly that Hamilton has maintained its water assets with significant investment and does not need Government coming in and centralising it. Taylor argued we should be showing some courage this time, fighting for residents. Wilson argued we should be looking closely at the idea that we should think about stopping spending over $80k for LGNZ to advocate on our behalf because “that’s right, they forgot to advocate on our behalf . . . when nearly 70 per cent of councils wanted to go the other way!” Donovan argued that while he was on the campaign trail recently, this was the No. 1 grievance that householders told him about. Naidoo-rauf argued that we need to send a clear message that our water assets are not for sale or negotiation, that we have been ignored and that we have to stand up for what our residents are telling us. The same group of councillors were the ones voting in favour of Taylor’s motion to oppose the reforms in the feedback to Government in September, demanding the proposals be halted and to signal Hamilton City would “opt out” of the Three Waters Reform. Back then, they also lost the vote by one. Waikato District Mayor Allan Sanson says his council voted unanimously to join the letter from Waimakariri. “The letter wasn’t a direct opposition to the proposals, but it highlights . . . outstanding issues . . . ” Waipa Mayor Jim Mylchreest, who signed the letter on behalf of Waipa District Council, says Waipa is firmly against the reform. “. . . it is not in our ratepayers’ best interest . . . ” Among the Waikato councils who didn’t sign the letter are Otorohanga district and Ruapehu district. Thames-coromandel Mayor Sandra Goudie told Waikato Herald she initially thought of signing but had to double-check with her secretary whether they ended up doing so. The Government has set up a working group of local government and iwi representatives to which people can submit feedback. The group will report back in March. No Waikato council is part of the working group. ”[So] we are completely bypassed. As a council there is nothing else we can do,” Bunting says.

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