Tue, Oct 11, 2022 1:37 PM

Marlborough council has one last Three Waters debate for the term


Maia Hart

The Marlborough District Council had one last meeting before the end of the term to approve Three Waters funding – a decision which came to the “surprise” of one councillor.

Just three days out from elections closing, councillors met on October 5 for an extraordinary meeting to approve a proposal on how it wishes to spend its “better off” funding – announced by central government in July 2021, as part of the Three Waters reform.

The funding, for “community wellbeing” projects, is to be allocated to councils based on a formula that considers population, relative deprivation and land area. Marlborough was allocated $23 million, with just under $6m available for allocation in “tranche 1”.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern initially said most of the funding would be spent ensuring councils were “better off” for joining the reforms, by allowing them to invest in the wellbeing of their communities, however the council had been told accepting the funding did not mean they agreed to the reforms.

The council proposed to spend the funding on over 15 different projects, including solar panels on the new Blenheim Library, a redevelopment of Nelson Square, river flood protection and a Marlborough Sounds long-term recovery plan.

These were subject to approval, as there were specific requirements laid out in the funding such as supporting communities to transition to a sustainable and low-emissions economy and delivering infrastructure that enabled housing development, growth and community wellbeing.

The council was initially meant to have their proposal in by September 30, but that date had been extended to November 30 due to the recent weather event.

A report prepared for the meeting by the council’s chief executive Mark Wheeler said they would prefer not to use the whole two-month extension period as the sooner projects were submitted, they sooner they could be approved, and work started.

But in the extraordinary meeting held on October 5, Blenheim ward councillor Jamie Arbuckle aired his “surprise” that the council was making a decision on the funding, just three days before the election.

Arbuckle said there were things in the proposal he did not know enough about, and thought it was a decision the new council should be making.

“Some [projects] ... I know nothing about. These are some things that should be workshopped, there should be more time taken on some of this," he said.

“Are these things a priority? Are they something that must be decided today? ... The answer is no. I don't see the urgency.”

He went on to say some incoming councillors may find accepting the funding was “inappropriate” yet they would be the ones that had to live with the decision.

Incumbent Marlborough mayor John Leggett speaks at the Stop 3 Waters roadshow in July. SUPPLIED: BRYA INGRAM/STUFF

Incumbent Marlborough mayor John Leggett asked Arbuckle to take himself back to when he joined council in 2010 and “first sat down” at the table.

“Could you say with confidence that you could get your head around, and your understanding of this within that short time frame, along with everything else?

“What I can tell you about Three Waters ... we have actively opposed the Governments' model, and I'm happy to sit here and say that remains our position.”

And, Leggett said they “had to be careful” because ratepayers would otherwise be asking why they turned down over $5.5m.

Leggett said he was confident about the proposed projects in question.

“Simply because I'm aware of all of them, I had good knowledge on most of them,” he said.

“I accept there's a couple of projects that we haven’t had a lot of information on, but they are projects that fit the criteria that's been given to us.”

Meanwhile, then deputy mayor Nadine Taylor said while she had “sympathy” for what Arbuckle said, she was “mindful” that most of the proposed work happened during the current council term.

“I'm also mindful that we have already got an extension as a council ... other councils have put their requests in. So I wouldn't necessarily like to see it pushed out any further.

“I would prefer if councillor was provided with the information he seeks, so he has a level of comfort on individual projects.”

Wheeler said councillors could put the proposal back on the table, but cautioned against the delay due to the $210,000 proposed for the Marlborough Sounds long-term recovery plan.

The majority of councillors in attendance approved the proposal. Arbuckle voted against, and councillor Thelma Sowman abstained from voting.

Marlborough District Council “Better-Off” tranche one proposal:
Giving effect to the National Policy Statement on freshwater management (NPSFM), $375,000

Giving effect to Te Mana o te Wai, $650,000

Rezoning variations to the Proposed Marlborough Environment Plan (PMEP), $300,000

River flood protection and climate change enhancement, $350,000

Emergency management response, $475,000

Marlborough Sounds long term recovery plan, $210,000

Solar panels library building, $250,000

Lansdowne Park lights upgrade, $100,000

Wairau River aquifer recharge enhancement study, $220,000

Capacity building (cadet ship proposal), $300,000

Nelson Square (Waitohi) redevelopment, $200,000

Cultural competency, $170,000

Identify iwi requirements for geospatial data and build digital tools, $200,000

Air quality monitoring Picton, $330,000

Wairau River regional park, $100,000

Heritage Centre investigation, $120,000

Tracks and pathways (improving accessibility), $150,000

Technology and innovation hub, $460,000

Water allocation and accounting database, $800,000

Upgrade lights, other sports parks, $45,000

Acceleration of Reserve Management Plan review, $715,000

Shortfall: $760,000

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