Last year some good progress was made locally on making sure prospective purchasers of coastal land were fully informed about the potential risks of coastal hazards. Thames-Coromandel District Council agreed to provide a reference in all of their LIM reports to the Regional Councils coastal flooding simulator. The simulator shows maps of various sea level rise and storm surge scenarios – such as we had on January 5, 2018. Initially, the Council was very reluctant to provide this reference, but to their credit, they finally agreed to it.
Now, the head of Local Government in New Zealand, David Cull has come out strongly for making it mandatory for councils to provide this information.
The main motivation from Mr Cull seems to be that making the providing of this information mandatory will protect the Council from liability. This is fair enough and a worthy objective. At the moment councils could be sued by existing landowners for providing the information and lowering property values but could then also be sued by future landowners if a flood occurs and they were not informed.
But the issue goes much further than that. Prospective purchasers of land need to have all the facts in front of them on coastal hazards. If councils are obliged to publish coastal hazard risk In LIMs, purchasers can make their own assessment as to whether to buy or not. And real estate agents will find it much harder to fudge these issues. If people receive more accurate information, the pressure will then come on the councils to continue to refine their assessment of risk, to carry out adaptive planning and make their communities more resilient. At the moment very little of this is happening.
So often, the emphasis is on the rights of existing property owners and that’s understandable when you consider that for many people it is their major asset and often represents their life savings. Any devaluation of that property is going to be a better pill to swallow. But some would argue that we already provide plenty of risk information for other types of hazards, for example, there are very detailed river flooding maps in most LIM reports and no one really raises any serious concerns about those. Similarly with earthquake risk, tsunami and other types of hazards. Why should it be any different for coastal hazards?
What is often forgotten is that prospective purchasers also have rights to be fully informed about any property they may be interested in purchasing. There’s not a lot of point in “shooting the messenger” in the form of a local authority which puts information on LIMs. The harsh reality is that the sea is rising at an accelerating rate and extreme weather, storm surges and inundation are going to become more frequent. We have to face up to these issues, and the first step is to make sure that every New Zealander is as fully informed as possible about these risks and can plan accordingly.
Making it mandatory for Councils to publish the latest hazard information is a good first step.