The Government's Three Waters reform is scratching the surface of a bigger shake-up to come for local government over the next few years.
The Government is proposing to merge the nation's 70 council drinking, waste and stormwater services into just four organisations. It's estimated that keeping the status quo for water services will cost households thousands more per annum by 2050 than the proposed merger option.
Water infrastructure is just the start as options to replace the Resource Management Act aim to consolidate the numerous plans within each region.
The Government appears to be signalling that there are too many councils.
A mountain of change is about to hit local government, but I'm concerned that the region's local parochialism may get in the way of making the right decisions for our future – not to mention the bureaucratic obstacles of having eight separate councils in the region.
An example of our parochialism is that Tauranga residents can be quite insecure about cruise ship tourists going to Rotorua, and Rotorua locals can be insecure about Tauranga dominating the infrastructure funding conversations.
There is a much bigger opportunity if we all work together. The wider region (including the Eastern Bay) needs each other as we benefit from our mutual successes. Tauranga benefits from our neighbour's strong primary sector and our neighbours benefit from the ease of getting their export products to overseas markets through the Port of Tauranga.
Businesses across the region are frustrated with the separate planning regimes between the different councils, particularly for enabling new industrial zoning, as well as the challenges with housing and the rising cost of living for our workforce.
Another example of excessive local bureaucracy is public transport. Councils point fingers at each other as they each have different roles, but everything needs to work together.
I am not advocating for a Tauranga takeover of the region. I'm advocating for quite the opposite as our council was so dysfunctional, the Government had to intervene.
Combining our councils is about the region's best and brightest working together. There is a shortage of suitable candidates to govern multi-billion-dollar local authorities. There is also a shortage of expert staff across the local government sector to advise on local challenges.
It makes sense to pool our human resources and establish a clear plan for the region, so it is easy for businesses to thrive under a single planning framework.
Merging large entities can be expensive in the short term, but, if done correctly, can make life easier in the future.
By 2025, I hope the region has found an approach for its communities to come together in a way that truly makes us a Bay of plenty.
- Matt Cowley is the chief executive of the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce.