Whitianga Town Project – $6.5m Drowned?

Government’s Sea Level Rise Guidelines Disregarded

The Whole Project Could be Submerged Within its Planning Timeframe

The Thames-Coromandel District Council has ignored Government sea level rise guidance and Regional Council sea flooding maps when considering the proposal for a $6.5 million upgrade of the Whitianga Town Centre. According to that advice and mapping, the whole project area could potentially be flooded from the sea in coming decades.  No expert assessment of the risk of sea flooding to the area has been carried out, and the Council has declined to get this assessment done before funds are committed.  This may lead to the whole project becoming a watery “blue” elephant and $6.5m of ratepayer funds being wasted. 

The Whitianga Town Upgrade would normally be a relatively uncontroversial project on which to spend a total of $6.5 million and to ask District-wide ratepayers to contribute $1.8 million.

But the project is no longer “normal’ or “uncontroversial” because:-

  • 2008 Government Guidelines on sea level rise say major infrastructure projects such as this must be assessed by Councils out to at least 2100 against a potential sea level rise of at least 0.8m, and
  • The Regional Council’s coastal inundation tool strongly suggests that 0.8 m of sea level rise will flood parts of the Upgrade area from the sea.  (without factoring in the additional adverse effects of a storm tide or wave run-up). In fact, the Upgrade area would be one of the first in the town to be inundated………   
2.0m slr
0.8m sea level rise without storm tide or wave effects


When storm tide but NOT wave effects are added to 0.8m of sea level rise (which they must be) the whole of the Town Upgrade area would be submerged…….


storm max tide plus 0.8m slr no wave 2.8m.PNG
0.8 m sea level rise plus maximum storm tide


Council decision makers are obliged to take a serious and precautionary account of the Guidelines, the Regional Council’s mapping data, and expert opinion before committing such a large amount of ratepayer funds to this project.   Unfortunately, the 2008 Government guidelines and Regional Council mapping data have been disregarded by Council.  No expert risk assessment of the potential effects of sea level rise on the project has been done.  In contrast, the Council has required an expert sea level assessment from the landowners wishing to raise the Buffalo Beach sea wall.

Even more concerning is that the latest (2017) draft Government guidelines require a “stress test” assessment of 1.9m of sea level rise for this type of project.   1.9m of sea level rise would almost certainly flood the entire project area and beyond.


storm max tide plus 1.9m slr no wave 3.89m
1.9 m sea level rise plus maximum storm tide



The latest projections of sea level rise from United States Government agencies confirm that there is a plausible scenario for an even greater sea level rise of 2.5 m by 2100. The 2008 Guidelines recommend that an assessment of the potential consequences from a range of possible higher sea level rises be carried out (particularly where impacts are likely to have high consequence or where additional future adaption options are limited).  Accordingly, the Council is obligated to consider these even higher US agency ranges as part of its risk assessment.


The concept of the project is said to be “based on a navigation theme centred on the Kupe and Cook link to the heritage of the area”.

 The failure by the Council to carry out a proper sea-level rise risk assessment of the Town Upgrade project could potentially lead to a reckless misuse of ratepayer’s funds.  The whole project could be submerged within its planning time frame and result in a much greater “navigation theme” than was intended.  More importantly, it would lead to the wasteful expenditure of $6.5 million of ratepayer’s funds.

The Council has been asked to freeze any more spending on this project until it has engaged expert coastal hazard scientists and undertaken a risk assessment of the potential effects of climate change and sea-level rise.  Council have declined to ask for that expert assessment and are determined to continue with the project regardless of the possibility that the area will be flooded in coming decades.

As ratepayers or residents (around $2m of $6.5m will come from District rates) what do you think?  Are you OK with the Council spending this amount on a mostly beautification project which could be submerged – without getting the site checked out? Contact details for Councillors and Board members are here