Long overdue reform of the water sector has created the opportunity for a first principles discussion of what local government can and should do and with what resources, says Infrastructure New Zealand CEO Stephen Selwood
“Operating infrastructure networks is a technical activity demanding flexible use of capital and strong asset management capability,” he explains.
“When networks cut across political, environmental or regulatory boundaries challenges are compounded.”
This is not the comparative strength of local government, Selwood argues.
“Under the current model we have allowed council financing constraints to undermine investment in clean water, political constraints to underfund growth services and technical constraints to under-deliver capital work programmes.”
He says “this is not a good outcome” and the government’s announcement that it will start the conversation with councils about what local government is really for should be fully endorsed across the political spectrum.
“We need local government representing the needs and views of people and communities, something larger government bodies and corporations cannot do, and we need regional government to lead economic development and spatial planning.”
Councils need the right tools which incentivise and enable them to act in the best interests of constituents, regions and wider New Zealand, Selwood believes.
“With Minister Parker’s recent announcement that discussion of planning statutes will begin in 2019, now is just the time to consider all functions of local government – city and regional planning, regulation, infrastructure and community needs.
“What everyone can agree on is that we need local government.
“This conversation provides the opportunity to repurpose its role to improving community wellbeing and focusing on people rather than operating pipes in the ground,” Selwood says.