Holding Back Sea Level Rise With A Pen

Council’s Delusional “coastal environment line”

(you Canute be serious !)

When reviewing the Resource Consent application by Whitianga Waterways I discovered the bizarre maps in the Thames Coromandel District Plan which purport to define the “coastal environment”. These maps are of critical importance because the highly directive Government’s New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement (NZCPS) only applies to land within the coastal environment. The NZCPS has very comprehensive policies directing all Councils to take account of climate change and sea level rise for the next 100 years at least.

The District Council maps are bizarre because the coastal environment line is drawn around all of the Peninsula coasts but the line comes to an abrupt stop and excludes the three major towns of Thames, Whitianga, and Whangamata. Why would the Council wish to exclude these towns from the coastal environment? One possible explanation is that the Council does not wish to be bound by the comprehensive policies in the NZCPS and therefore does not wish to have to account for climate change and sea level rise when considering new and existing development within those three towns.

If that is the case then the level of head in the sand avoidance of sea level rise issues is astounding and deeply worrying. Any low-lying land within these three townships is going to be severely affected by sea level rise (Thames and Whitianga are particularly at risk) regardless of where Council might choose to draw a line on a map. Does the Council seriously think that by excluding these towns from the definition of coastal environment that this will somehow hold back the immensely powerful forces of nature and save them from being submerged?  

An image of King Canute trying to hold back the sea comes to mind.King Kanute

The sooner Council faces up to the reality of rising sea levels the sooner residents will be informed about the potential hazards and the sooner we can prevent intolerable new risks posed by placing new development in harm’s way.

In a further bizarre twist, undeveloped parts of the Whitianga Waterways project are deemed by Council to be excluded from the coastal environment when a resource consent is being considered.  Presumably, the Council would then argue that the NZCPS is not applicable (the developer takes this position).  But as soon as the consent is granted and the canals are opened to the sea – the very same land suddenly does become part of the coastal environment and the NZCPS would apply!

Here is the TCDC District Plan Map of the coastal environment around Whitianga

Coastal environment

Thankfully the District Council’s coastal environment line has been appealed by the Waikato Regional Council to the Environment Court.  That appeal has not yet been resolved.  

The Waikato Regional Council (WRC) has produced its own map in its Regional Policy Statement (RPS) indicatively defining the landward extent of the coastal environment and this clearly includes the whole town of Whitianga and the Waterways land.  In drawing their line WRC has relied on its own definition of the coastal environment. This definition is almost identical to the one in the NZCPS.

Coastal environment WRC RPS

One can only hope that sanity prevails, that the line is confirmed as including the 3 towns, and the NZCPS and its essential directives on climate change and sea level rise are then required to be followed by developers and the Council.   The rising sea is certainly not going to care where the line is drawn!