Mayors wade in on three waters reform, farmers' protest

On Friday, thousands of farmers took their tractors and utes to towns across New Zealand in a nationwide protest against a swathe of new environmental regulations.

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Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan and Lower Hutt’s Campbell Barry want more information before deciding if they’ll support it. Source: Q+A

It came as mayors from around the country were meeting in Blenheim for the Local Government Conference.

Q+A this morning spoke to two mayors who say uncertainty and fear is driving the anger.

Central Otago mayor Tim Cadogan told host Jack Tame: “There's a hell of a lot of change in the rural landscape, and so that's creating … fear. Uncertainty creates fear and that came out on Friday.

"We saw a lot of anger and, of course — no disrespect to the media — that's what's going to get focused on. But, the anger is generated by the fear of what's it going to look like farming tomorrow, for my children, the next generation, and so forth."

Lower Hutt Mayor Campbell Barry said framing the debate as a rural-urban conflict was unhelpful.

“I think we need to look at is long-term, bigger picture, what is going to be the best thing for New Zealand when it comes to, for example, our exports? Where can we add value?

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"There is a rising expectation from consumers in New Zealand, but we can do a better job of that… internationally, there is an expectation that things are grown or made in a sustainable way," he said.

"There's actually opportunities there to get some pretty good economic outcomes for us as a country and I think that story needs to be shared a bit more. And how can we support each other to make sure we get those outcomes?”

Cadogan believes it’s important for Government and farmers to keep talking to each other.

“It's working through the changes; recognising, I think, that we've got a majority Government that's driving these changes and so the parties need to keep talking.

"The farmers have made some good noise on Friday that certainly won't be ignored, but the dialogue still has to be open for how these changes can be best managed to work for the whole of the country."

Tractors drive through Queen Street in Auckland's CBD. Source: 1 NEWS

Both mayors said a raft of changes coming through at pace — the RMA, significant natural areas, the proposed three waters legislation — was making some uneasy.

However, Barry argues that leaving things as they are is not the answer.

"What is really clear is that the status quo simply isn't an option for us in the Lower Hutt, Wellington region." 

He said they face "a trifecta of issues", including "significant underinvestment over decades".

"We've got that same infrastructure which is coming to the end of its life, and we're experiencing significant growth. So, we need to change the way we do things to make sure our water is healthy for our people and for our environment."

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1 NEWS’ Katie Bradford explains the major findings of reports into NZ’s drinking, waste and storm water infrastructure. Source: 1 NEWS

The three waters proposal was prompted, in part, by the tragic deaths of four people from contaminated drinking water in Havelock North. Thirty-five others were hospitalised and "a third of that community made sick". 

"If you look up and down from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South, there are challenges right across the board in different districts, different cities, and we need to do something different," Barry said.

Cadogan said there’s a lot of detail — and many questions — to be worked through before many mayors will reach a position on the reforms.

"Some are sitting back going, 'Let's wait and see,' 'let's get the full data', some are making some fairly big statements, and some are really angry.

"But the angry ones I can't really relate to, because as Campbell and I both said, the status quo is gone; Havelock North stopped that so we've got to go on with something. People who get themselves into trenches — it's hard to communicate with them."

He adds that there has been "a lot of reform in the local government sector at the moment". 

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"We're not just facing this; we're facing RMA - we're facing any number of things. A future for local government is going to be different. We're having the first review in 30 years, and change brings fear, and fear brings anger, and so we're getting a bit of that too."

Watch the full discussion in the video above or on TVNZ On Demand.