I arrived in New Zealand in 1999 having lived through the reform of the water industry in the United Kingdom. Soon after, I wrote an article for the Local
Government magazine saying that I thought larger funding bases were required in
the water industry in New Zealand. It
was clear to me then and it’s still clear now that the “user pays” approach had
done its dash and a new approach was required.
Here we are 16 years later and nothing has really changed.
The problem the Drinking Water Assessors, Councils and other
water suppliers have is the position we’re in currently. We can’t start
penalising water suppliers for being stuck in a legacy that built this country
and made it what it is.
We (those involved in the industry) need to take a lead in
this in a number of areas.
Firstly, we need to push for the removal of political
interference at a local level. How can a
25 or 30 year infrastructure investment plan be successful if those who are ‘interfering’
are worried about being re-elected in 3 years and have been elected on a rates
reduction basis? There are notable
exceptions to this comment that validate it all the more.
Secondly, we need to get out of our “user pays” mentality
and look at other funding methodologies. I prefer that those who benefit pay, i.e. all
Finally, we need to take a really hard look at setting up a
New Zealand Water Company and a regulator.
Anything smaller is going to run into the same problems eventually. Take a look at Scotland, England, the United States
and Australia and see what’s working well, what’s working poorly and what’s not
working at all.
This is not a call for privatisation. It’s not about who owns the utility. It’s
about how we manage our infrastructure going forward and how we supply water to
a few people in small communities.
Here in New Zealand, we have one major urban centre with any
money – Auckland. This means that
Auckland needs to assist the funding requirements of all the rural
councils. What I’m advocating is that we
remove the gate on the Bombay Hills permanently and we start looking at our
water supply on a national level. Our
rivalries should be kept for the rugby field not infrastructure development.
You can read the article Hitting the Hard End of the Drinking Water Law here.
by Iain Rabbitts, Water and Wastewater Manager at Harrison Grierson.
Back to HG Perspective