Thames-Coromandel District Council has promoted and consented numerous major new developments on the coast at risk from sea level rise. Why? Surely it is not a cynical master plan to encourage $millions of risky coastal developments so that a government bailout is more likely for residents and sea walls will be funded? Or is it because some in the Council don’t accept the science of sea-level rise? Incompetence? Either way it is morally indefensible and willfully ignorant. A NZ-wide legal framework which applies to all Councils is needed.
These ethical and legal adaptation issues have been highlighted in a report by Deep South Challenge researcher Lisa Ellis and outlined in this excellent Newsroom article by Eloise Gibson.
Here are some extracts from that article. You can read the full research article here
“The tiny town of Jean Lafitte, Louisiana, is engaged in an extraordinary game of chicken with United States authorities. Despite being too small to require a traffic light, the town boasts a 1300-seat auditorium, a library, a wetlands museum, a civic centre and a baseball park, all built within a decade in a remarkable bid to make the town too valuable to flood. By sinking millions into a flood zone, the mayor hopes to make his town unsinkable.”
Our Council Is Playing Chicken
Thames Coromandel Council is seemingly encouraging its own game of chicken between central government authorities, insurers and coastal landowners.
- A 72-unit retirees apartment block has been consented on foreshore land in Thames less than half a metre above sea level
- TCDC is actively promoting a $20 million + swimming pool complex on other Thames foreshore land also less than half a metre above sea level and at risk from both inundation and groundwater flooding
- TCDC recently pushed on with a $6.5 million upgrade to the Whitianga town centre despite advice from the Regional Council that it is the most low lying part of the town and at risk from inundation due to sea level rise –
- A major 167-lot subdivision on the estuary at Cooks Beach was consented based on a 1 m sea level rise report despite Regional Council advice to consider 2 m . –
- A 72-lot extension to the Waterways canal housing development in Whitianga was consented despite evidence the canals are already overtopped during king tides –
Coastal Property Developers and Owners Are Also Playing Chicken
“New Zealand coastal property owners also have an incentive to keep investing in areas that may one day be in a flood zone. There’s an unspoken assumption that the government won’t let communities go under, even if they can’t get private insurance. Developers can profit now, and assume that the cost of relocations or seawalls, if they are needed, will be shared among many.
The incentives to build will become even more perverse if we decide what communities to defend based mostly on the value of property at stake,
“The rich will get seawalls while the poor get moved,”
If we stick with the status quo,” says Ellis, “the way we adjust to sea level rise will exacerbate existing inequality.”
Prof Ellis’ report recommended that government create a legal framework with NZ-wide equality, so communities did not feel unduly punished by proactive councils. Rather than some councils going first it would be fairer to all residents around the coast if the same rules applied to everyone.
An example of this was if communities chose to build sea walls for protection, there was a risk that beaches ended up getting lost to the engineered protection works.
The report laid out the need to pre-fund adaptation measures on a national level because it would overcome inter-generational inequality in the future.
“It would also overcome inequality among exposed regions, because the ability to respond to sea-level rise depended on rate-payer capacity, which varied across New Zealand.”
Prof Ellis said it was vital young people were engaged early as they had the greatest stake in the future. And renters too.
A RNZ interview with Prof Ellis here