Three Waters: Auckland, Christchurch mayors propose alternative plan to Government's reforms

The mayors of Auckland and Christchurch have put forward a joint alternative proposal to the Government's Three Waters reforms.

Auckland's Wayne Brown and Christchurch's Phil Mauger said the new proposal would keep crucial aspects of the Government's current plan, including the new water regulator, Taumata Arowai, while maintaining local ownership, control and accountability, and allowing for meaningful roles for mana whenua.

Also in the new plan, Regional Water Organisations (RWOs), which would be unable to be sold outside local authority ownership, would have access to investment capital through a Water Infrastructure Fund (WIF), administered by the Government's Crown Infrastructure Partners, best known for its successful roll-out of ultra-fast broadband.

The degree of any formal co-governance over RWOs would be determined by each local community in consultation with mana whenua rather than by the Government, the two mayors said.

Waimakariri Mayor Dan Gordon is already backing the new proposal after the three mayors met in Tāmaki Makaurau on Monday. Other mayors around the country are currently considering the proposal, the trio said.

In a statement, the three mayors said it was time for the "old divisive argument" to end and for a new conversation to achieve consensus to begin.

"Everyone agrees tens of billions of dollars need to be invested over several decades to upgrade New Zealand's freshwater, storm-water and waste-water infrastructure – and that requires maximum political consensus to deliver policy stability," they said.

"As a nation, we need to find a way to move forward in a positive and consensus manner - and stop the ugly and angry Three Waters debate that is dividing our country."

The three mayors said recent local government elections showed the Government's current proposal could never secure the wide public support to be a sustainable policy.

Information about the proposal was supplied to the Government before it was made public on Monday afternoon.

"If two Cantabrians and an Aucklander can agree on this new starting point, we think everyone else should at least be prepared to give it a decent look," Christchurch's Mayor Mauger said.

Waimakariri's Mayor Gordon added that water assets are long-term community investments that deliver services for decades, and people can't afford "wild policy swings" each central or local government election.

Meanwhile, Auckland Mayor Brown said not everything in the Government's current plan is "wrong" and they have included all the aspects of it they believe can meet the consensus test.

"Further refinement and development will be needed as we all work together towards a national consensus, with clear benefits to every community identified, understood and accepted."

The National Party's local government spokesperson, Simon Watts, said the party welcomes the proposal as a way to contribute to the Three Waters debate.

"The Government's Three Waters proposal is dead in the water. Councils and the communities they represent do not want what the Government is offering. Nobody wants it except Labour," he said.

"Councils should retain ownership of their water assets and the Government should not impose co-governance on delivery of these public services. These have always been bottom lines for National."

Watts said the Government should abandon its Three Waters campaign and work with local councils to find a solution.

Following a meeting with Brown almost two weeks ago, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made it clear she wasn't happy about him telling Auckland Council bodies to scrap Three Waters.

"Obviously the legislation is actually already before select committee. We are expecting recommendations on the back of that and I want to listen to those and hear those and make changes that we believe can strengthen that legislation," Ardern said.

"But I made it clear to the mayor that his speculation about Three Waters not going ahead would mean rates increases and I'm not going to allow that to happen."