New Zealanders want and expect quality drinking water, clean rivers and swimmable beaches. The sub-standard status quo where pipes are too often allowed to fail, creating pollution, wastage and massive bills for ratepayers, will not be allowed to continue under a National government.
But it’s clear that New Zealand has, for a long time, not been investing enough in the water infrastructure we need now and into the future.
The answer is not Labour’s flawed Three Waters policy, which takes local assets away from local communities and lumps them into to four cogoverned mega-entities.
National believes water assets should remain with local communities and the ratepayers who funded them. Therefore, we recently released our Local Water Done Well policy, which will scrap Labour’s undemocratic and unworkable Three Waters model and replace it with a sustainable system that ensures drinking water, stormwater and wastewater remain in local control.
National will set and enforce strict water quality standards and require councils to invest in the ongoing maintenance and replacement of their vital water infrastructure. We support the water quality regulator (Taumata Arowai), but will amend the governing legislation to exclusively target water quality.
We will also establish a new, independent water infrastructure regulator within the Commerce Commission to work alongside the water quality regulator. Water services will be regulated under Part 4 of the Commerce Act, alongside other essential infrastructure such as electricity lines.
Councils will be required to demonstrate a clear plan to deliver ongoing investment in water infrastructure and to ring-fence money for water infrastructure and not spend it on other services instead.
Resilient, well-maintained, future-proofed modern infrastructure will mean communities can better cope with mounting pressures due to climate change, and accommodate housing growth.
There is a wide range of estimates for how much upgrading New Zealand’s water infrastructure will cost, ranging from about $90 billion to the Government’s estimate of about $185 billion.
We aren’t arguing about the cost. We know further investment will require tens of billions of dollars. That’s why our plan supports greater access for councils to long-term borrowing, which is an appropriate way to fund long-life water infrastructure.
Councils can do this by teaming up with their neighbouring councils to form council controlled organisations — which allows them to borrow more. With access to long-term funding, councils can spread the cost of infrastructure over 30 years. This will help avoid increases in your rates bill.
It is important New Zealand gets this right. The status quo is not good enough and Labour’s flawed, centralised plan won’t be any better.
National has always been the party that has got on with building infrastructure — it is key to a productive economy.