Sunday, August 22, 2010

It all started back in 1997

e.g. The Wellingtonian, 29 July 2010 p 6. –
(Wellington city’s CCO) “Capacity chief executive David Hill ... made a bid to Wellington Regional Chairwoman Fran Wilde for capacity to take control of the region’s entire water supply system, including its aquifers and dams. He said the company would be able to take unpopular decisions, such as the introduction of water meters, in a “less politicised environment.” ”
“Council infrastructure planning manager Maria Archer has said that if water demand was not reduced by 2014 the council would need to either begin work on further supplies, or encourage water conservation by installing water meters.”

While Wellington city has proclaimed on several occasions recently that the installation of domestic water meters is not its present policy, what is really being said is “not right now.” It is an historical fact that the city has always been
enamoured of domestic water meters, but has only this term received for the first time ever the unswerving support of the regional council.

That this should now be the case is not surprising considering the astonishing sophistication and success of the city’s parking meters. They effortlessly bring in more money each year than the city pays GW for its bulk water, and the upper limit to which parking charges can be increased has not yet been discovered.

But the two enterprises, water meters and parking meters, are not the same. Parking meters require only a few truckloads of road paint, and a purchase order on Vodaphone. Water meters require not roadside verges, but a physical substance to meter, namely water, and GW and WCC have put the cart before the horse by promoting an expenditure of more than $100 million* on water meters when the water is simply not there in the quantities reasonably expected by the community.
(* The GWRC original estimate was in fact $72.5 million, but WCC has recently estimated the figure to be $52 million for Wellington alone. Since WCC has half the household numbers of the four cities supplied, the regional estimate can now be said to be $104 million.)

The situation is reminiscent of the Simpsons episode where Homer has a placard on his bedroom wall saying “Trousers first, then shoes”. GW and WCC should have placards on their walls saying “Water first, then meters”.

So what can councillors and electors of the Hutt cities and Porirua do? – Probably not a lot, beyond attempting to hold our regional councillors to account, since they are famously unaccountable and unresponsive to the voters who actually elect them. – They do, it is true, give our councillors a warm flanneling, as to a small child, when they want something.

At issue is the 35 year term for contracting out city services presently provided for in the Hide Bill. In practice this will mean a contract for 35 years with, effectively, unlimited rights of renewal. It may not be privatisation, but it most assuredly is alienation. The introduction of water meters, or the introduction of practically anything at all, will not be encumbered by a need to seek the approval of residents.

J A Edwards

Lower Hutt


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