The Coastal Environment (CEL) is the inland area from mean high water springs subject to coastal processes and influences with significant coastal qualities. Where the line is drawn by Thames Coromandel District Council (TCDC) has a huge bearing on where coastal development can take place around the District’s 400 km of coastline, and to what scale.
TCDC’s initial CEL took a very “developer-friendly” position and drew the line very close to the high-water mark and omitted all major coastal settlements in the District, such as Thames, Whitianga Whangamata and Coromandel. (green line on the maps). TCDC got this horribly wrong. After appeals, TCDC has backed down, at huge cost to ratepayers. Now, the line will include coastal settlements and be much further inland.
TCDC’s CEL was appealed by Waikato Regional Council (WRC) and the Environmental Defence Society (EDS). The overwhelming weight of expert evidence from their planners and landscape architects was that TCDC was plain wrong to omit coastal settlements and the CEL needed to be moved much further landward. TCDC was forced to back down and has now (largely) agreed with the CEL proposed by WRC and EDS. (The blue line on the maps). The substantial difference between the green and blue lines can be seen in the following maps.
At huge expense, many hundreds of landowners had to be notified about the new agreement between TCDC and the appellants so that they could have their say. That consultation period has finished. The Environment Court will now hear from late submitters and decide whether to accept the mediated agreement between TCDC, WRC and EDS for a new position for the CEL (blue line on the maps). Little change to the blue line is expected.
Why the CEL Matters
The final position of the CEL is of great significance for a whole range of planning issues, such as where subdivision, other development, prospecting and mining can take place, and the extent and scale of land disturbance and vegetation clearance.
The CEL is also vitally important because it will determine where the strict directives in the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement relating to coastal hazards such as erosion and coastal flooding apply.
For example, Objective 1 in the new District Plan requires that Subdivision, use and development in the Coastal Environment –
- Maintains or restores the integrity, form, functioning and resilience of the Coastal Environment, including the long-term projected effects of climate change and
- Manages coastal hazard risks, including the long-term projected effects of climate change;
Policy 3c states that in the Coastal Environment settlement development and growth shall:
b) ensure sufficient development setbacks to protect coastal natural character, public access, indigenous biodiversity, natural physical processes, amenity, and natural hazard mitigation functions of the coast; and
c) protect hydrological processes and natural functions of back dune areas;
e) allow for the potential effects of sea level rise, including allowing for sufficient coastal habitat inland migration opportunities;
h) avoid increasing natural hazard risk associated with coastal erosion and inundation
This last paragraph requiring the Council to “avoid increasing natural hazard risk associated with coastal erosion and inundation” is highly problematic for any major new development inside the Coastal Environment Line. One example is the proposed sub regional aquatic centre near the airfield at Thames.
As discussed in this blog, “avoid” has been defined by our highest court – the Supreme Court to mean to “not allow” or “prevent the occurrence of”.
The significance of the coming changes to the CEL can be seen from this map of Thames. The proposed aquatic centre near the airfield is not within of TCDC’s original CEL (green line) but is well within the new CEL which TCDC has now agreed to – (blue line). The whole of Thames to the ridgeline in the hills behind the town is now within the coastal environment