Review sees speculation flow

By Lawrence Gullery

A review looking at how Hastings manages its water services comes hot on the heels of speculation that councils around the country will have to hand over water management to private companies.

Hastings District Council approved the first two stages of a four-stage, $75,000 water review recently, which will include advice from water experts working with consultants MWH.

The council's water services manager, Brett Chapman, in his report to the council's tenders subcommittee, said there was significant interest in water and wastewater management with changes on the way, recommended by the Land and Water Forum, National Infrastructure Plan and the Government's recently released Better Local Government document.

"There are a number of initiatives being proposed through these reviews that will have implications for water services management."

There appeared to be "a lack of factual information" supporting claims which suggested councils were not managing water services well. The claims, including that councils may not have the funding to maintain services and lacked accountability, were being used to promote fundamental changes in the way services were delivered to the public.

In Auckland, a council controlled organisation called Watercare Services provided water and wastewater services to 1.5 million people which had led to lower water prices and brought forward upgrades in places such as Pukekohe and Helensville.

The reasons for having fewer water providers were understood to include the inability of small councils to afford costly upgrades of water and wastewater plants in the Auckland region.

The Hastings water review's first two stages would look at legislative requirement and an evaluation of how it performed against those targets. Stages three and four would evaluate what "best practice urban water services" would look like before considering any new operating arrangements.

"There is a need to prepare for pending changes in local government and in the water sector. Undertaking a review of how council delivers water services to the community will enable alternative options to be fully considered within a local, regional and national context," Mr Chapman said.

Hastings and Napier urban residential property owners enjoyed a flat rate for their water supply. Other councils metered properties.

Local Government New Zealand president and Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule said he did not think there was "a real chance" of private companies taking over water management from councils.

"We will be part of a share services initiative looking at what is the most appropriate way to manage water across the region, which is slightly different.

"And if that plan suggested any significant changes in the way water services are delivered, it would have to go out for public consultation." - Additional reporting, New Zealand Herald

- Hawkes Bay Today

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