Friday, 27 Nov 2020

Upper Hutt mayor claims Wellington Water wasn’t transparent about Audit NZ concerns

Upper Hutt’s mayor claims Wellington Water wasn’t transparent about concerns Audit New Zealand raised relating to the company’s performance measures.

Mayor Wayne Guppy is now asking the company’s shareholders to support an urgent review of Wellington Water’s structure.

He said his council was dissatisfied around performance measures, delivery, and a lack of transparency and communication.

The region’s pipes have been under the microscope over the past year after colossal wastewater failures in Wellington City revealed the consequences of underfunded, ageing infrastructure.

The Upper Hutt City Council recently voted in favour of a review after councillors learned through a Wellington Water presentation last month that Audit NZ was concerned the company’s non-financial measurement systems were inadequate.

Guppy said they were told this could lead to Audit NZ formally raising those concerns through an opinion, which could negatively impact the Upper Hutt council and other shareholder councils.

He was concerned the Wellington Water Committee was not convened to table the audit issues.

“We were concerned directors were writing letters to the auditor and the shareholders had not been informed.

“I believe all shareholding councils have a responsibility to their ratepayers and the greater Wellington region’s population that we are getting value for money and that the Wellington Water structure is the most appropriate structure to lead us forward.”

But aWellington Water spokesman said the company has kept its owner council officers and the chairman of the Water Committee up to date throughout the process.

Wellington Water is yet to receive any formal opinion from Audit NZ.

The spokesman said Audit NZ met with the Wellington Water board on September 17 to discuss progress with the audit, which was when issues were verbally raised about response time measures.

The board has since been looking into those concerns.

The spokesman noted a formal review of Wellington Water was done in 2016 and that a Wellington City Council mayoral task force this year reviewed three-waters management (water supply, wastewater and stormwater) for the capital.

Guppy has asked that a recommendation for an urgent review of the company’s structure be considered at the next Wellington Water Committee meeting.

The Wellington City three-waters portfolio leader, councillor Sean Rush, acknowledged Guppy was “unhappy” about the way Wellington Water had performed in Upper Hutt.

But he said everything was up in the air anyway with the Government’s incoming Three Waters reforms.

South Wairarapa mayor Alex Beijen said he was “more than interested” to see the argument for a review at the next committee meeting.

He described the water aggregation environment as being in a state of flux, making it timely to review Wellington Water’s capability and function.

“It would be logical to have a review of our structure and how that might fit in with the Government’s expectations with the Three Waters reform.”

But Porirua mayor Anita Baker said it would be unhelpful at this point to backtrack with such a review.

“We’re happy with what Wellington Water is doing and going forward … we just need to let Wellington Water continue on.”

Lower Hutt mayor Campbell Barry said he didn’t know what a review would achieve.

He said the region’s water problems were a result of significant growth pressures, assets reaching the end of their life, and historic underinvestment in infrastructure.

“When I became the mayor it was very clear that Wellington Water were giving advice that was being significantly watered down, excuse the pun, to fit within what council viewed as a fiscal envelope.”

The next Wellington Water Committee meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, November 3.

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