Timaru stops for five-week nationwide tour rallying opposition to water reforms

A pressure group embarking on a five-week nationwide tour rallying opposition to government water reforms was warmly welcomed in Timaru over the weekend.

Timaru’s mayor, deputy mayor and some councilors, as well as Mackenzie District Mayor Graham Smith, were among the crowd of ‘about 50 to 60 people’ who attended the rally in Timaru, organizers said. .

That number was inflated by a large group from Christchurch who joined the rally outside Timaru District Council on Saturday, after crossing Stafford St.

”[They] were holding their own separate march, and they decided to join us, which probably tripled our numbers,” said Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke, who was on the tour.

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It was great “to hear and highlight” Bowen’s concerns, as one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed reforms, Houlbrooke said.

Timaru, Waimakarairi and Whangarei district councils last week sued local government minister Nanaia Mahuta and the local government secretary over the controversial reforms, asking a judge for a blanket ruling on assets owned by the councils. .

Timaru District Mayor Nigel Bowen and Deputy Mayor Steve Wills at the Taxpayers Union rally to stop government water reforms in Timaru on Saturday.

JOHN BISSET/Stuff

Timaru District Mayor Nigel Bowen and Deputy Mayor Steve Wills at the Taxpayers Union rally to stop government water reforms in Timaru on Saturday.

“Obviously Mayor Nigel Bowen has led the charge for advice, not just in the media and in public, but in court,” Houlbrooke said.

The national tour, which started in Christchurch in early June, stopped in Fairlie on the second day before heading down the South Island, returning via Timaru among 15 other South Island stops and before the 26-stop North Island tour. from the end of next week.

Houlbrooke said that as well as collecting signatures for their petition, the tour will urge politicians on the select committee to look at legislation “to get out of Wellington and listen to those in the regions”.

He rejected the government’s claim that consolidating the country’s water resources would save public money.

Mackenzie District Mayor Graham Smith during Saturday's road show.

JOHN BISSET/Stuff

Mackenzie District Mayor Graham Smith during Saturday’s road show.

“The government is already handing millions to councils in ‘no worse’ funding and then planning to spend billions on water.

“The bill will come no matter what. The question then is whether the people spending that money are accountable to the taxpayers.

While local councils may not be perfect in delivering their services, they are at least accountable, “so it’s the devil you know, or more importantly in this situation, it’s the devil that you can at least vote,” he said.

“Basically, the people who make the decisions are separated from taxpayers and voters by four layers of bureaucracy. »

He said there are viable alternatives to the government’s plans, such as the councils’ proposals for local amalgamation.

“We certainly saw that in Hawke’s Bay after the Havelock North situation.”

In 2016, around 7,000 residents of Havelock North fell ill, more than 54 were hospitalized and at least four died, following contamination from one of the town’s water boreholes with sewage.

Timaru District Mayor Nigel Bowan speaks to Timaru District Council on Saturday.

JOHN BISSET/Stuff

Timaru District Mayor Nigel Bowan speaks to Timaru District Council on Saturday.

He agreed that “something has to be done”, with the country’s water infrastructure, but “the ideas don’t have to come from Wellington”.

The Water Services Entities Bill has passed its first reading and has now been referred to the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee, and Houlbrooke said he expects bids to open within coming weeks.

Bowen acknowledged he had become one of the country’s most prominent opponents of proposed water reforms, and the three South Canterbury councils are part of Communities 4 Local Democracy, the anti Three Waters group formed in 2021.

“We certainly took the lead in the court case, and we were also one of the main players in the C4LD steering group,” Bowen said.

“Partly because myself and a small group of other mayors saw over a year ago the direction this was taking and saw the disappearance of local democracy over time.

Bowen said the roadshow, court case and other measures would “hopefully put pressure on the government to consider another model, which was presented to them by our group. [C4LD] and others”.

“We have a very good model that we think can work, especially on property rights and local democracy.

A large group from Christchurch joined the roadshow after crossing the main street of Timaru on Saturday.

JOHN BISSET/Stuff

A large group from Christchurch joined the roadshow after crossing the main street of Timaru on Saturday.

“We worked with an international consultancy, Castalia, and came up with an alternative model, which is more of a bottom-up model with advice in catchment-type groups, like South Canterbury, working more closely together.”

Bowen said next month will be “a waiting game”, as he awaits the outcome of the case Timaru and two other counsel – Waimakariri and Whangārei – have brought before the High Court.

At the first of two days of hearings at the High Court in Wellington last week, Bowen told the Timaru Herald he was “cautiously optimistic” about the case, which seeks a ruling over the council’s assets.

He said the outcome will define the next step for those fighting reform, but in the meantime he hopes the select committee can be pushed to conduct its hearing on the road and in the regions so that “people can go out and have their say. ”

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