The rushed process for the latest Water Reform Bill is creating as many new problems as it is solving, Nelson Mayor Nick Smith told the Governance and Administration Select Committee on 5 July.
“The mad rush to pass this Bill is no way to treat such massive changes to the way we manage billions of dollars’ worth of Council water assets. It has been so rushed there has been no time for Nelson City Council staff or elected Councillor input and most Councils, like our neighbours in Tasman and Marlborough, have not been able to submit. It has become a legislative circus when bills that were passed under urgency only a few months ago are now being repealed and rewritten under an even faster process. Good legislation never results from bills rushed through Parliament in the white-hot political environment just before an election and there is no need for haste when the implementation date for these reforms has been delayed several years.”
“Nelson is supportive of the change from four to 10 water entities that enables us to partner with Marlborough and Tasman, but the bill makes a hash of the change by not also simplifying the governance structure. There is no need, when there are only three Councils involved, for the extra layer of bureaucracy of the Regional Representative Group as well as the board of the new water entity. The Regional Representative Group should be removed saving costs, improving efficiency, and providing stronger accountability.
“The boundaries in the Bill for Water Entity H comprising Nelson, Marlborough and Tasman unfairly create orphan communities by excluding the communities of Murchison, Ward and Seddon. This is the only water entity in the country that does not follow Council boundaries. The Mayors of Nelson, Marlborough and Tasman are united in our plea to the Committee to realign the boundaries of the region as the approach in the bill will compromise good water management, add cost and create confusion.
“The inconsistency in Government policy is that the communities of Murchison, Seddon and Ward are included in Te Whatu Ora – Nelson Marlborough and the Nelson Marlborough Conservation Board. It is contradictory that the Government’s reform of the Resource Management Act takes a different approach, following Council boundaries rather than iwi boundaries. The two Bills create the nonsense situation where Murchison’s water planning issues will be managed from Richmond whereas water infrastructure issues will be managed from Christchurch.
“We respect NgÄi Tahu as a successful and vibrant iwi, but their view that Murchison, Ward and Seddon’s water infrastructure be run from Christchurch should not override the views of the 3000 people actually living in these communities. Many of the North Island water entities do not follow iwi boundaries. The common-sense solution that respects NgÄi Tahu’s tangata whenua status in these areas is for them to be one of the nine iwi alongside our eight Te Tauihu iwi involved in entity H. This approach would also simplify Water Entity I for Canterbury and the West Coast as it would no longer need to involve councils from the top of the South.
“This Bill is a quick, dirty fix to solve a political problem but it is not a sustainable solution for water infrastructure for communities like Nelson. The right way forward, regardless of who is in Government after the election, is for the legislation to be paused, for the submission date to be extended to enable Councils to make proper submissions and for it to be considered by the new Parliament,” Mayor Nick says.
Tasman Mayor Tim King and Marlborough Mayor Nadine Taylor are both on leave and have not been able to participate during the very short submission period. Acting Tasman Mayor Stuart Bryant, who is the Ward Councillor for Murchison, joined Mayor Nick for the Select Committee hearing.
“This Bill makes a dog’s breakfast of water management for Murchison. Residents will be totally confused about having their drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems run from Christchurch while the management of the rivers and drains will be from Richmond. Managing a storm event will be a mess. It is going to add cost, be less effective and compromise the environment. A small, remote community like Murchison with high rainfall does not need this extra complexity in managing its water,” Acting Mayor Bryant says.