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Water decision on hold

Water decision on hold
Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown and his councillors were hesitant to approve a preferred handover date for the affordable water reforms as it could suggest support for the reforms they have adamantly opposed. PHOTO ASHBURTON GUARDIAN

Why make a suggestion when it will be dictated anyway?

That was the feeling of the Ashburton District councillors when considering a preferred launch date of the Canterbury-West Coast entity, entity I, in the Government’s affordable water reforms.

Mayor Neil Brown said the Government hadn’t listened to them so far, so recommending a date “will probably fall upon deaf ears like everything else has, so I don’t think we are going to lose anything”.

“They are asking us now to say 'when do we want to join the entity', I don’t want to join it at all and by giving them a date, it is signalling that we are sort of happy with joining an entity.”

Ashburton is already a member of entity I under the legislation, which will most likely pass before Parliament rises in August ahead of the election.

The decision the council was considering is around when the assets are handed over.

The 10 entities will start on a staggered basis, starting with the Auckland-Northland entity A. They will all be active by July 2026.

With the Canterbury Mayoral Forum inviting West Coast mayors to its August meeting for a discussion on a preferred date, Deputy Mayor Liz McMillan suggested the decision should wait until after that meeting.

Brown wanted to take it a step further and wait until after the election.

The decision on when entity I starts sits with the minister, and not signalling a preferred date carried the risk of it being made before the election, chief executive Hamish Riach said.

Suggesting a date provided “tacit approval” and experience in the last few years suggested anything the council put forward had no influence, councillor Carolyn Cameron said.

“I don’t think we should play the game.

“No one listens to us anyway so don’t engage.”

The risk is other councils who support the reforms may put forward an early date, councillor Russell Ellis said.

As the reforms are currently being passed into law and a deadline set, and the council “can't bank on the Government changing”, councillor Richard Wilson said, supporting proposing a date.

The council’s position was to wait until October, after the election, before deciding on a preferred date. But as Riach warned, the decision will likely have been be made before then.

By Jonathan Leask