Whangārei Mayor Vince Cocurullo said the Three Waters’ fight is not over, despite a High Court ruling.
Photo / Michael Cunningham
Whangārei’s mayor says the fight to protect councils’ $1.46 billion of Three Waters assets is not over.
Mayor Vince Cocurullo’s comments come as High Court judge Justice Jillian Mallon released her 69-page decision after a June 2022 Three Waters challenge from Whangārei District Council, along with Timaru and Waimakariri District Councils.
The councils sought declarations on the rights and interests that property ownership entails as well as around compensation for the assets being taken from councils and put into new giant water services entities.
Cocurullo said the three councils were already looking at where to next in the wake of the High Court decision. This was in spite of the High Court not ruling as the trio wanted, that councils owned the ratepayer-funded Three Waters assets, instead indicating that was a matter that could instead be decided by Parliament.
He said the future of $1.4 billion of Whangarei District Council (WDC) Three Waters assets was at stake. Adequate compensation for any expropriation of these assets was needed.”We’ve spent $120 million on our Three Waters assets in the last 10 years alone,” Cocurullo said.
Everything was on the table, including escalating the trio’s quest to Parliament for a Government decision on the matters around what property ownership in this case amounted to and adequate compensation for the acquisition of council Three Waters assets.
Cocurullo said in spite of the legal challenge not delivering exactly what the three councils had wanted, the trio had been vindicated in its efforts seeking legal clarity around the ownership and compensation matters it had raised, with the decision formally acknowledging for the first time these matters existed.
Justice Mallon said the councils’ legal bid sought to influence the legislative process involved in Three Waters establishment, a role the High Court was not satisfied it should have.
Her decision was eight months in the making after the council trio’s case was heard in the High Court in Wellington. The councils sought legal clarity on ownership and compensation, saying that under Three Waters reforms, the Government was “expropriating” council-owned property without considering that it was “taking” the assets and “without fair compensation”.
Expropriating means a government or other authority formally by law taking away property, especially for public use, without payment to the owner of the property.
Cocurullo said page 65 of Justice Mallon’s decision acknowledged her acceptance that Three Waters reforms involved a form of expropriation for which compensation could be given, but whether that happened was a matter for Parliament to decide.
She also accepted that the Three Waters governance structure would materially dilute councils’ ability to control the use of their Three Waters assets and that democratic accountability for the provision of these services would essentially be lost.”What does that mean for a ratepayer in Tikipunga with a broken water pipe, where does that person go?” Cocurullo asked of the new Three Waters’ structure.
He said the council was still determined to get the best outcome for its ratepayers who had paid for the district’s Three Waters assets over many decades. He said the High Court decision brought more questions than it answered.
Prime Minster Chris Hipkins on February 8 said he had asked new Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty to report back on how to refine the Three Waters reform. Any change to the structure would likely include a change to Three Waters entities’ governance structure.
Cocurullo said the current Three Waters changes should be scrapped. He said the Government should instead go for a model funding for councils such as Far North District Council and Kaipara District Council which could not afford to meet Three Waters reform requirements. The four new water services entities across New Zealand could become the funding agencies to which such councils applied. Cocurullo said he was extremely concerned about the loss of local democratic control in the Government’s currently planned Three Waters restructure.
- Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air