Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has responded to claims made by Rangitīkei mayor Andy Watson that Government consultation over the proposed Three Waters reforms is a "disaster."
Last week Watson criticised the pace of the proposed reforms, and accused the minister of dodging questions around whether councils will have the ability to opt out.
"I've been in local government for some time, and I've never seen anything approaching this. It is being shovelled at us at a rate of knots that is just difficult to process," Watson said in the broadcast.
"The consultation process with our communities has been a disaster. We've seen the promo stuff on TV, and that's been met with distaste, from Local Government NZ, council and mayors."
In a statement to the Chronicle, Mahuta rejected the suggestion that the reforms were being rushed.
"The Government has been engaging with local government on water reform over the last four years. It has been working with a joint Central/Local Government Steering Committee on the optimal design of the proposed entities for the last 15 months.
"Councils have recently received considerable information and analysis on the reform proposals and what this means for them. This includes details of the Government's $2.5 billion financial support package, and shows that all communities and ratepayers are better off under the reforms."
One of the greatest concerns of both Watson and council chief executive Peter Beggs was that local voices were being ignored by the Government.
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"I believe we have a moral and statutory right to engage with communities, not only around providing the information but in seeking feedback," Watson said last week.
In response to those concerns, the council initiated its own engagement process, sending a letter to every household in the district, and asking residents to respond to an online survey on the proposed reforms.
According to Mahuta, at the request of the local government sector a two-month period throughout August and September was agreed to, allowing time for local government to understand how the reform proposals affect their councils and communities, to identify issues of local concern, and suggest possible ways of addressing these.
"This is not a decision-making process for councils and there is no requirement for formal community consultation at this point. However, if that is how councils want to spend this time rather than undertaking to understand the information, that is their decision."
Mahuta said the Government will focus on consultation, once the process reaches that point.
"The Government is gathering feedback throughout, and following this period of engagement will make decisions on the next steps in the reform process, including mechanisms for community consultation."
"This is a long-term intergenerational programme. It won't happen overnight. The current proposals provide for at least three years to work with councils and communities on the finer points of the reforms."