TCDC Will Carry on Regardless with Drowning Swimming Pool Project

TCDC has issued a press release and FAQ confirming it will press on with a $20m swimming pool project near the Thames airfield despite warnings that the proposal is highly unlikely to get resource consent. Land has been purchased for $1.04m for sports fields and a swimming pool. 

The statement from TCDC fails to respond to many key concerns about the project including the ‘legal elephant in the swimming pool’ – the pool is very unlikely to get resource consent because the site is already being impacted by seawater intrusion and official future projections of sea level rise. 

Council says stormwater and flood water management will cope with the “50–60-year lifespan of any sports facility that is built there.”  That is by no means certain.   Also, our laws say that in areas at risk from coastal hazards at least 100 years of sea level rise projections, and the wider social, environmental and economic risks must be considered, not just the lifespan of the project itself. 


Council also lumps together the sports grounds project – which is more readily relocatable when flooding gets intolerable  – with a $20 million-plus swimming pool which is a sunk investment because it is not relocatable.  You can’t simply lift up a swimming pool complex and transport it somewhere else when sea flooding invades the site.

The sports ground part of the proposal makes reasonable sense, but a non-relocatable swimming pool and grandstand is simply reckless and a waste of ratepayer money if pursued further.

The Council then puts up a straw man to knock over by saying there is no increase in risk compared to the existing swimming pool site.  That is irrelevant.  What counts in our coastal laws is whether the new proposal, any additional protection works required, and the intensification of development which will result – will in and of itself increase risk.  Clearly, it will.

Then there is the admission from Council that the existing swimming pool is at high risk of (coastal and) river flooding.  What message should that have for Council about the hundreds of houses and businesses in the low-lying Shortland area of Thames around the existing pool?  Surely that it should concentrate limited ratepayer funds on protecting those homes and workplaces (and hundreds more at Moanatiaari, Grahamstown and Tararu) rather than pushing on regardless with a reckless new project.

The Council asks how much future flood protection due to sea level rise will cost but doesn’t provide any answers, and tries to limit the costs issue to the immediate vicinity.  We all know sea level rise and the associated costs will occur on every coastline and won’t be confined to Totara. 

If the stopbanks have to be raised by a metre or two at Totara, then this will be true of the entire Thames foreshore, Te Puru, Waiomu, Tapu, Te Mata, and every other at-risk small settlement or town around Thames-Coromandel’s entire 400 km coastline.  Not to mention the towns and cities around the length of New Zealand’s 15,000 km coastline.  This is precisely why our coastal planning laws direct Councils to avoid increasing risk with new coastal development.  How will all this work be paid for?

It’s good to see the Council acknowledging that the land in and around the proposed site is subsiding.  But the issue is not the safety of foundations for any new swimming pool as Council would have us believe.  Engineers can cope with foundation issues (albeit at higher cost).  What the Council ignores about land subsidence is that it increases the rate and risk of sea level rise. 

If the ground is sinking at 5 mm a year and sea level rise is 5 mm a year that makes the total local sea level rise rate 10 mm.  Local land subsidence significantly increases the risk of flooding from sea level rise. 

The Council also glosses over the threat from groundwater.  It’s not just the proposed site that is at risk from groundwater flooding.  The whole of the Thames foreshore has these problems. 

Dunedin City has similar problems with groundwater flooding.  Dunedin’s new District Plan requires all new additions and buildings in coastal flooding zones to be relocatable.  And they have engaged overseas experience to advise on how they can deal with it, – at massive cost.

Council has a whole District from which to choose a suitable site for a swimming pool which is free from flooding risk.  Why is this so hard?