Day Two: Morning session – Local Government in Focus
Local Government New Zealand Chief Executive Susan Freeman-Greene spoke to the value of local government, iwi and central government partnerships in addressing the range of ‘wicked problems’ in the infrastructure sector and elsewhere.
Susan said local government was also at a fork in the road, given the upcoming reform, and was grappling with the enormity of it. A thriving and inclusive democracy would remain critical to addressing a raft of matters including Three Waters, climate change, Resource Management and local government reform and others.
As well as Covid-19 and climate change challenges, there were demographic challenges, a rural/urban divide, doubt being thrown on science-based evidence, and a growing tendency to play the person, not the issue.
Susan noted that previously LGNZ had tended to stand against things, not for things, which gave LGNZ little influence. It had made a strategic shift to engage more constructively, announcing in July a Heads of Agreement with Government to work together on all reforms.
Success would not be easy or guaranteed, and required many factors to fall into place – central government needed to stick to role, iwi needed to be involved, and communities needed to contribute to decision making.
Local Government reform was a change for a once in a generation reset, with local government’s responsibility being to give communities a voice, have courageous conversations about what it needed to keep and what it didn’t, and ensure a thriving local democracy.
Minister of Local Government Hon Nanaia Mahuta focused on Three Waters reform. She highlighted the cost of water infrastructure over the next 30- 40 years, at a cost of $5b a year, which was beyond the means of territorial authorities to effectively address.
In speaking to the recent creation of Taumata Arowai and the coming economic regulation and consumer protection workstreams, Minister Mahuta highlighted the benefits of greater certainty for the sector with regard to the upcoming pipeline of work.
To meet this sustained demand, she emphasised the need to develop our local skilled workforce to fill 6000-9000 jobs worth $14-23b over the next 30 years. She noted that consultation would take place on a national level, as well as at a local level via the Steering Committee, and acknowledged Infrastructure New Zealand’s support of the Three Waters reforms.
David Norman, Executive Advisor, Economics and Strategy, GHD.
David’s insightful scene-setter discussed the perfect storm of an infrastructure shortfall, skills shortage, rising prices and insatiable global competition. Regarding Three Waters reform, David touched on the need to ask how regulation and amalgamation would make people’s lives better, being mindful that not every project is a good project, and noting that every decision involves a trade-off. These are salient points given the estimated $120-$185b investment needed in Three Waters over the next 30 years will be funded by the same people, being water users, ratepayers and taxpayers.
Facilitated by Dr David Wilson, a panel on water reform featured mayors and key local government representatives including Hon Anne Tolley (Commission Chair, Tauranga City Council), Mayor Sam Broughton (Selwyn District Council), Mayor Neil Holdom (New Plymouth District Council), Mayor Paula Southgate (Hamilton City Council), and Dr Roger Blakeley (Councillor, Greater Wellington Regional Council).
The key takeaway from this session was that while there was consensus the current Three Waters arrangements aren’t fit-for-purpose and the case for change has been well made, there was disagreement as to the shape and form of the response, and governance arrangements would be key to the success of the reforms.
The Resource Management System Reform panel facilitated by Daniel Minhinnick (Partner – Environment, Planning and Natural Resources, Russell McVeagh) with Amelia Linzey (Group Director – Advisory and Chief Planner, Beca), Alistair Cross (General Manager, Environment Management Group, Greater Wellington Regional Council), Matt Paterson (Chief Advisor, Policy and Programmes, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment) discussed the upcoming reforms, and the ‘decade of transformation ahead’.
The panel reflected on the proposed legislative arrangements integration of development and environmental outcomes, and noted this focus in the Auckland Council Long-Term Plan had benefitted thinking in this area. The panel also spoke to the role of targets as complementary to environmental limits, and the opportunities provided by the Spatial Planning Act for placemaking.
Alan Sutherland (Chief Executive, Water Industry Commission for Scotland) discussed the key learnings from Scotland’s water reforms.
He outlined that governance, management and economic regulation were the three key pillars to maximise the benefits of reform, with the collection and use of information for performance monitoring being vital to retain confidence.
Alan also emphasised the tight timeframe New Zealand faced in determining costs and who should pay before mid-2024.
Day Two: Afternoon Session – Meeting Future Needs and Expectations
Frances Valintine, CNZM (Futurist, Tech Futures Lab) presented the ‘The Strategic Advantage’.
Frances discussed our ability to understand change and to acquire the knowledge we need for the future.
She reflected on the challenges we face in moving forward and highlighted factors including biases toward available and recent information, the influence of hard-to-break habits and a lack of diversity of thought, overloaded and attention deficient people, a lack of responsibility for the consequences of climate change, and the need to focus on long-term targets as key to understanding and appropriately tackling future challenges.
Frances also spoke to our increasingly ‘desynchronised’ society and pointed to the need for innovative and visionary strategies for building and maintaining a capable and engaged workforce.
Distinguished Professor Emeritus Paul Spoonley focused on a range of significant demographic trends affecting New Zealand.
Paul outlined key issues such as our aging population, which would mean a 20% decrease in the Auckland working age population in coming years, the below replacement birth-rate (of 1.66%, where 2.1% and above is replacement), the impacts of urbanisation and population shifts toward the upper North Island – and the impacts of these trends on an already struggling labour market.
He considered that these issues contributed to new challenges for local and central government as well as industry, noting the population and workforce projections in New Zealand Territorial Authorities’ Long Term Plans varied significantly and lacked the accuracy necessary for the effective delivery of key outcomes contained in those plans.
Debbie Kirby (General Manager Corporate Social Outcomes, Downer) facilitated a Social Outcomes panel including Helmut Modlik (Chief Executive Officer, Ngāti Toa), Kumeroa White (Water Site Engineer, Downer), Stephen O’Neill (Director of Asset Management, Department of Corrections NZ), and Alice Bray (Senior Procurement Advisor, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency).
The panel reflected that siloed approaches to complex and interrelated problems hadn’t worked, and would inhibit positive change.
Alice Bray highlighted good partnerships and co-creation should be the cornerstones of achieving broader social outcomes, where partners are equal and bring their own expertise to the table.
Helmut pointed to the need to be innovative in our partnerships, and to meet in the middle, between a bottom-up and top-down approach to delivering both universal and equitable outcomes.
Iwi and community engagement would be of vital importance to future success.