I have been a strong critic of the Thames-Coromandel District Council’s approach to planning for climate change and sea-level rise. But today the Mayor and Council deserve some real kudos for agreeing to promptly adopt the Government’s projection scenarios for sea-level rise in their 2018 – 2028 Long Term Plan.
“A potential sea-level rise of up to 1.88m by 2150 will be taken into account for all major infrastructure projects proposed as part of our Council’s 2018-2028 Long Term Plan (LTP).” – Mayor Sandra Goudie
These assumptions about sea-level rise are contained in the latest Coastal Hazard Guidance to Local Authorities published in December 2017. The guidance imposes New Zealand wide minimum transitional allowances and scenarios for sea level rise depending on the type of development being considered. – Refer the following figure showing projected sea-level rise under various scenarios and the table setting out these minimum transitional allowances – Category A to D.
As can be seen, for Category A development such as major new subdivision or greenfield subdivision or major infrastructure projects, the requirement is to avoid hazard by considering the “H+” scenario. (the red line) This requires councils to consider 1.88 m of sea level rise out to 2150. Of great significance is the requirement in the Guidance to avoid hazard. Avoid has been found by the New Zealand Supreme Court to mean ‘not allow’ or ‘prevent the occurrence of’. This does not allow much, if any “wriggle room”.
The adoption of these sea-level rise allowances by the Thames-Coromandel District Council is really significant. It must surely mean a quick end to crazy proposals such as to locate a $21 million swimming pool on the Thames foreshore on land which is clearly at risk from sea flooding, and in breach of the new Guidance. A site away from the coast has to be found. But if the Council has the courage of its convictions, it must surely now review the proposal to spend $6 million on the upgrade of the town centre in Whitianga which is also at risk of sea flooding under relatively modest sea-level rise scenarios. It is still not too late for the Council to pull back from this proposal.
The adoption of the new guidance also calls into question several 2017 resource consents which have been granted by the Council, which were documented in the excellent investigative journalism by Eloise Gibson in Newsroom. These projects include the expansion of the Whitianga Waterways project and the proposal for a 72 unit apartment block on the Thames foreshore. The Waterways project considered just 1 m of sea level rise – rather than the 1.88 m mandated by the latest guidance. The Thames apartment proposal considered a 16-year-old coastal hazard report which considered just 0.49 m of sea level rise. The entrance was flooded during the January 5 Storm surge.
The Council are to be congratulated for adopting the latest Guidance in their Long Term Plan. Now surely the real test of its commitment is whether the Council is prepared to review these consents?
When it comes to considering land planning and use controls on existing development, the requirement in the Guidance adopted by the Council is to consider 1 m of sea level rise within the next 100 years – i.e. out to 2120. It will be very interesting to see how the Council approaches its District Plan and other planning issues in the months ahead.