Floods, three waters and protests
Neil Volzke, Stratford District
Sometimes things just don’t go to plan; that was my experience last week when I attended the Local Government New Zealand Annual Conference held in Blenheim. The conference finished at midday Saturday and I planned to travel home that afternoon, but someone failed to tell the weather gods and it started to rain, I mean seriously rain. Airports at Blenheim, Wellington and Auckland were all closed due to high winds resulting in hundreds of attendees at the conference being stranded in Blenheim where accommodation was at a premium. I had stayed in a cabin at the local holiday park, so a quick trip back there was the best option and luckily I managed to find accommodation for an extra night before flying across Cook Strait early Sunday morning. While I hunkered down in my cabin and hoped for a quiet night, it certainly raised my awareness of how good the Civil Defence services are in New Zealand. Parts of Marlborough, some only 5km from my location, were in a full scale Civil Defence emergency. As events unfolded the local media and information updates provided a strong sense of confidence that the emergency response was in good hands. I do genuinely feel for the locals though, the flooded areas and damage I spotted from the plane on Sunday morning confirmed there were massive areas of flooding and damage. The car ride back to Taranaki was uneventful and with no visibility of Mt Taranaki it was not obvious I was back in the region until I reached Hawera. From then on I knew I was near home as the road surface quickly deteriorated and the region with more potholes than anywhere else, reminded me I was in Taranaki, home safe and sound. But what about the purpose of the trip, the conference itself? The event was dominated by two major topics, the first being the Three Waters Reforms. During her address Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a $2.5 billion funding package to be distributed among councils to ensure that no council was “worse off” after handing over all drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure to a new multi-regional entity. Stratford District Council’s share of the fund was $10.2 million which is not to be sneezed at, but there is plenty of detailed information that needs to be digested before we can make any judgment whether we are truly winners or losers. Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta was asked directly, will we still have the choice of opting in or opting out of the new multiregional entity. The answer was far from convincing. Her response was that the case for change was compelling and for those considering opting out, that option may well have passed. With a $10.2 million enticement and the answer given, the option for councils to opt out appears to be slipping rapidly from our grasp, in fact it seems to have already gone. The other major topic was the tsunami of government legislative reforms that are targeted at local government. Several of these planned legislative changes will also have very significant impacts on the rural sector. Last week’s “Howl of A Protest” organised by farmers across New Zealand was a huge push back and rejection of the proposed changes. Reports about the local turnout were really impressive and I wish I could have been there to show support for the rural community that currently feels under siege. I see a need for much more balance between political ideology, law changes and reforms versus environmental improvements. Farmers also need to be acknowledged for the huge amount of work they have already undertaken, at their own expense, to achieve environmental improvements. At the moment the flood and pace of reforms is a pressure that, as we saw last week, is not welcomed by the rural community and is perceived by the sector to have the same destructive effects as the floods in Marlborough.