Mayor rejects ‘super council’ concerns
Waipā mayor Jim Mylchreest says it’s “common sense” that councils around a major urban centre like Hamilton plan collectively – but they don’t need a super council like Auckland to do it.
Mylchreest has responded to concerns that efforts to jointly plan for major infrastructure alongside Hamilton City, Waikato District and Auckland Council could lead to a mega organisation. He rejects that, noting towns like Cambridge and Te Awamutu, plus smaller centres like Pirongia, are “proud of and want to maintain their autonomy”. He says one of Waipā’s strength is the nature of its unique communities.
“Our Council is fully committed to maintaining the identity of our towns and the character of our district. But that doesn’t mean neighbouring councils can’t and shouldn’t be working together, across boundaries, to get the best outcome for their ratepayers,” he said.
“A good example is that here in the Waikato, we’re already working together to investigate possible options for wastewater treatment. We have an obligation to do that because good planning will always save money and will ensure future growth needs are taken into account.”
Mylchreest said recent moves to look at the way drinking water, stormwater and wastewater is managed had created discussion nationally around better water management. Waipā District Council, like most councils nationwide, has signed-up to be involved in a national review. In doing so, Waipā secured $6.4 million to invest in local waters infrastructure.
“The money was a way of getting councils across the line to be part of a wider review.But the process going forward is not clear yet so that’s something to watch,” Mylchreest said.
“I don’t disagree that government should set standards for waste water, storm water and drinking water. And I’ll accept there are parts of New Zealand where councils are really struggling. But the rhetoric that water infrastructure across the whole country is fundamentally broken is just not the case and certainly not in Waipā.”
He also said that too often local government was the whipping boy of central politicians and policy advisors with a “Wellington world view”.
“Look, I’m not saying councils get everything right, because they don’t. But when things like Covid hit, it was councils and council staff on the front line, providing immediate social assistance.Without local government stepping up, New Zealand would have been in serious trouble,” he said.
“And for the most part, councils have done a much better job of managing infrastructure than central government. We have 10-Year Plans and 30-year infrastructure plans and they are laid out and costed and everything is transparent. People largely know what their rates are going to be two or three years in advance – you can’t say that of expenses like your power bill.”
“But governments change and flip-flop positions to suit their political view so the reality is that long-term planning for much of government-controlled infrastructure is a mess. And we can see that with things like hospitals, schools and roads.”
“So while those in Wellington might be happy to point the finger at local government in terms of water, they should consider how they are managing some of the infrastructure they are responsible for as well.”