Local Government Magazine
LG Magazine

A message from the top

By Simeon Brown, Local Government Minister. February 2024.

I believe well-functioning and effective local government plays a vital role in supporting and growing our local communities and businesses.

Holding the Local Government portfolio is a privilege and a responsibility I take very seriously. It also presents a number of challenges that are all too often readily apparent in the many potholes and leaky pipes in the streets of our communities, and feature prominently in the news of councils considering hefty rates increases.

The Coalition Government strongly believes that it is for councils, and the communities they lead and represent, to decide on the best way forward to address the long-term challenges facing their community.

However, it is important to me that central government provides the support local government needs to help it perform well.

My role as Minister, with the support of my colleagues in the Coalition Government, is to put in place the tools, frameworks, and legislative settings, that councils and local leaders can then select from to do what they need to do locally. In a way that makes sense for them.

The Coalition Government believes the priorities local government should focus on are about getting the basics right. In this update, I want to focus on two areas – water services infrastructure, and city and regional deals.

Local Water Done Well is our plan to address New Zealand’s long-standing water infrastructure challenges. It recognises the importance of local decision-making and the flexibility for communities and councils to determine how their water services will be delivered in the future. We will do this while ensuring a strong emphasis on meeting rules for water quality and investment in infrastructure.

With Local Water Done Well, we want to enable councils and communities to determine what works best for them, while establishing clear expectations and bottom lines.

Key principles of our plan include introducing greater central government oversight, including economic and quality regulation.

This is what will ensure households and businesses receive high quality water services at an affordable and fair price. While some councils are in good shape to continue delivering water services sustainably and affordably well into the future, it’s clear that maintaining the status quo will not work for all communities.

However, rather than forcing through a prescriptive and divisive reform model, which strips communities and their democratically elected councils of their ownership of water services infrastructure and assets, we are taking a different approach.

We are currently developing new fit-for-purpose service delivery models and financing tools, such as improving the current council-controlled organisation model and developing a new class of financially separate council-owned organisations.

To ensure that these models and tools are practical and realistic, I have appointed a Technical Advisory Group to provide advice and assurance on policy and legislative settings.

Our goal is to enable local councils to appropriately recover costs and access the long-term debt needed to fund the required investment in water infrastructure.

We need to ensure water services are financially sustainable. That means revenue sufficiency, balance sheet separation, ring-fencing of water services revenue, and funding for growth.

We are making good progress on implementing our plan. We have now passed an Act which repeals the previous government’s Three Waters legislation and restores continued local council ownership and control of water services.

This Act also includes measures to support councils through their current Long Term Plan development process which has been complicated by the previous government’s reform programme.

I have also set out our plan for the next 12-18 months to implement Local Water Done Well through a two-stage legislative process, with all legislation expected to be introduced by the end of this year.

While water infrastructure issues are clearly front and centre, the Coalition Government is keenly aware of other challenges facing our communities including the need for housing, transport solutions, climate resilience, and urban growth. We are fundamentally rethinking how we approach infrastructure investment to address these critical infrastructure issues.

City and regional deals will see central and local government taking a collaborative approach to high-impact infrastructure projects, with each deal tailored to the needs of cities and regions.

I look forward to sharing more details as our city and regional deals policy is refined and made ready, so we can begin a new set of positive discussions with the sector about the way forward.

Addressing New Zealand’s infrastructure deficit is key to unlocking economic development and building greater opportunities for our communities.

To further support that goal, my colleague Hon Chris Bishop, who holds the Resource Management Act Reform portfolio, is currently developing a replacement system. He has repealed the previous government’s Natural and Built Environment Act 2023 and Spatial Planning Act 2023 as we promised in our 100-day plan. This was important to ensure councils did not spend too much work and effort to engage with a system that will not deliver the infrastructure development we need.

In terms of other challenges facing the sector, the Coalition Government is determined that local government is well supported to lead cyclone recovery efforts. As Minister for Emergency Management and Cyclone Recovery, that commitment is behind my colleague Hon Mark Mitchell’s February announcement of $63 million in additional funding for silt and woody debris removal in Tairawhiti and Hawke’s Bay.

Meanwhile, my officials are working closely with local authorities to determine what further regulatory relief councils may require as they move through their recovery programmes.

Across the Coalition Government, it is pleasing that we’ve been able to make good progress in our first 100 days.

In the Local Government portfolio, and other inter-related portfolios, this has created a firm foundation to build on.

It has given us the space to develop and implement settings that will ensure our local government system is strong and focused on providing good-quality local infrastructure and services, at the least possible cost to their communities and businesses.

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