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Opinion – Russ Rimmington

Your voice matters. The voice of the community matters. And it’s up to those you elect to represent your views and to act in the best interests of the community, region and nation.

It’s one of the reasons I backed Waikato Regional Council’s call for a pause on the Government’s Three Waters Reform programme at our September meeting.

The reform programme, led by the Minister of Local Government Hon Nanaia Mahuta through the Department of Internal Affairs, proposes to aggregate New Zealand’s 67 council water services into four large water services entities.

The Government has been moving at startling pace with its reform programme and, it seems to me, railroading decisions through.

While there’s a fundamental need for change, from the rhetoric in newspapers, and on television, radio and social media, there’s a clear lack of information, understanding and other options for delivery of this programme.

That’s why the Government must hit pause and take the time to carry out full community consultation that follows a proper process.

Some might wonder why a regional council is weighing into the debate when it does not own water services assets.

Well, as a regional council we do have an interest in the policies, oversight and regulation of the wider freshwater, wastewater and stormwater system, including how stormwater works in with flood management.

It’s a significant decision, and as regional leaders we have an obligation to foster a constructive dialogue and discussion about it.

Local government review

It’s my observation that the Government has perhaps got its sequencing out of order when it comes to three waters. The Future for Local Government Review would be the right place to have a deep discussion about the functions of local government, before jumping to a changed form such as that being pushed through three waters.

The local government review is being chaired by former Waimakariri Chief Executive Jim Palmer, and it will undertake a broad engagement process, with formal consultation and submissions from about October 2022. The final report is due in April 2023.

Its interim report has just been released. It’s no surprise that this first independent review of local government in 30 years has revealed that local governance of communities and their wellbeing has become quite complex.

It needs a thorough look – something it will get through this review. I welcome the opportunities to come to share my views on what successful governance could look like for the Waikato region in the future.

Improvements coming

As I write part of our region is, once again, operating under Alert Level 3 restrictions. Just as they have been for our communities, there’s no doubt the changing alert levels and boundaries have been a challenge for Waikato Regional Council too.

But staff have worked hard to ensure the level of service expected by ratepayers has been maintained, and decision making by councillors has still been able to happen.

That’s included on the future look of Te Huia. I’m immensely proud of our Waikato to Auckland passenger rail service, and it’s a huge disappointment that the Auckland boundary has temporarily stopped it in its tracks.

But staff and governors have been using this time wisely, looking at what improvements can be made to make this service a truly brilliant one.

Right now, some details are still to be ironed out and boxes ticked before I can confidently get into the details.

But there are some exciting changes we’re hoping to bring forward, which will make Te Huia a standout option for people wanting hassle-free travel into Auckland’s CBD. Watch this space!

Russ Rimmington is Chair of Waikato Regional Council. The views are his own.

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