Northland's three waters reform has been thrown into disarray after Whangārei District Council yesterday became the first council in New Zealand to reject the Government's three waters restructuring plan.
WDC councillors unanimously voted at a council meeting yesterday to provisionally opt out of current three waters reforms.
Its actions have put it in direct contrast to Government plans.
Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai said her council needed to make sure its ratepayers were not disadvantaged from being part of any national three waters reform. Whangārei District Council (WDC) had not been able to get enough information to make a wise decision around this and was therefore opting out of the reform at this point, she said.
Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta would not comment at edition time on the council's actions, other than to say she would be concerned if councils made decisions prematurely before their own ratepayers had a chance to understand the benefits to them directly.
A new entity combining the three waters functions of WDC, Kaipara District Council (KDC), Far North District Council (FNDC) and likely Auckland Council's Watercare has been signalled by the Government.
Kaipara Mayor Dr Jason Smith said the Government's three waters modelling for Northland was now a farce in the wake of WDC's decision.
KDC and Far North District Council were being asked to use a model including WDC as the foundation for their decision making on whether to opt in or out of restructuring when the council had pulled out of doing so.
"The situation has now deteriorated into a French farce," Smith said.
He said WDC had made the right decision at yesterday's meeting and it was one he fully supported.
Mai said her council would potentially reconsider its provisional June 29 opt out if it had adequate information.
Former Whangārei MP and National deputy leader Dr Shane Reti said WDC's decision sent a clear message to the Government.
Reti said communities were increasingly against the Government's plans to centralise what happened in provincial New Zealand and control it from Wellington.
Generations of Whangārei residents have paid towards the district's $634 million three waters infrastructure for drinking water, wastewater, which now has a $1.3 billion replacement value.
Mai said WDC was required, as part of its memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed with the Government, to make a decision before today on opting in or out of further involvement in national three waters reform.
WDC three waters infrastructure, and limited debt around this, places it in a strong position nationally, in contrast to most local authorities in New Zealand.
Water Industry Commission of Scotland analysis showed WDC was in the upper 25 per cent of New Zealand's top-performing three waters organisations, council chief executive Forlong said.
WDC councillors at yesterday's meeting spoke strongly against opting into continued three waters participation and the future of that three waters asset at that point.
Councillor Phil Halse said the way the Government was handling the three waters restructuring was a sad indictment of its approach to local government.
WDC and its ratepayers had put a lot of money into three waters infrastructure over a long time. Sewage spills into Whangārei's harbours and waterways from Bland Bay in the north to Langs Beach in the south had been virtually eliminated.
Mai said at the meeting WDC had tried repeatedly to get information from the department of internal affairs to help inform its decision ahead of today's deadline.
This had included an Official Information Act request that did not bring results, Forlong said.
WDC has complained to the Ombudsman about not being able to get the required information.
A new entity combining the three waters functions of WDC, Kaipara District Council (KDC), Far North District Council (FNDC) and Auckland Council's Watercare has increasingly been signalled by the Government.
Halse said Whangārei's three waters position was in contrast to Auckland's where 18 of 22 beaches had recently been closed due to water pollution.
The Government is restructuring the way New Zealand's drinking water, stormwater and wastewater provision, aiming to strip three waters functions from councils and dramatically reduce the number of entities managing the sector.