Paying Lip Service to Coastal Hazards

In a familiar yet disturbing trend, yet another major Coromandel coastal subdivision consent application has been lodged with Thames Coromandel District Council which pays lip service to the impacts of climate change and sea level rise.  This time, it’s an application for an additional 74 sections in the Whitianga Waterways project.  The application does not include an up to date coastal hazard assessment which considers the latest Government guidance, or proper planning and legal analysis of coastal hazards for the site.


The application for Stage 12 of the Waterways suggests there has been provided “the most up-to-date sea level rise figures’.  But this appears to refer to an earlier report undertaken for Stage 10 of the Waterways project in July 2017 which was completed before the Ministry for the Environment published its updated 300-page Coastal Hazard Guidance in December 2017.

Those latest December 2017 Ministry Guidelines require consideration of several sea level rise scenarios, including (for Category A projects such as major subdivisions) the RCP 8.5H+ scenario and 1.88 m of sea level rise.

SLR table

The July 2017 Report for Stage 10 of the Whitianga Waterways project refers to the older 2008 Ministry Guidelines and bases it coastal hazard assessment on a sea level rise value of 1.06 m consistent with the lower RCP 8.5 scenario.  Although Table 2 in the Stage 10 2017 report referred to the higher RCP 8.5 H+ 83rd % scenario which has a sea level rise value of 1.36m as at 2120, the Stage 10, 2017 report adopts the RCP 8.5 value which is 0.3m lower.  No explanation is provided as to why the lower value was adopted.

table2 207 tt report
Table 2 from 2017 Report

There are countless other matters discussed in the 300 Page + 2017 Ministry Guidance which has not been considered in the latest AEE filed for Stage 12.

Also, there is no detailed planning and legal analysis in the AEE of the directive policies in the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010 (NZCPS) relating to coastal hazards.  The Department of Conservation has issued a detailed 100-page Guidance document on Policies 24 – 27 in the NZCPS relating to coastal hazards which have also been disregarded in the AEE.  All of these substantive matters are summarily dismissed with the one-line statement “we consider the proposal is consistent with the New Zealand Coastal Policy statement”

Nor is there discussion in the AEE of the authoritative decisions of the Supreme Court in the King Salmon case relating to the primacy of the NZCPS as a top-level planning instrument, the definition of “avoid” as is it used in Policies 24 and 25, and the decision of the Court of Appeal in the RJ Davidson Trust case relating to how King Salmon principles are to be applied in resource consent applications when the NZCPS is invoked.

I have written to Council to ask them to require the applicant to provide an up-to-date coastal hazard assessment which complies with the NZCPS, the Ministry for the Environment Guidance 2017 and the 2017 Department of Conservation Guidance on Policies 24-27 in the NZCPS, together with much more detailed and thorough planning and legal analysis of these matters referred to above, before Council considers the application.

TCDC has recently allowed several major subdivisions and other coastal developments to proceed without proper assessment of coastal hazards.  Examples include the Longreach Subdivision at Cooks Beach, the upgrade to the Whitianga Town Centre, and the Richmond Villas apartment project in Thames   — to name a few.  This shoddy decision making cannot continue.

On past performance, it may be hopelessly optimistic, but let’s hope that TCDC will stop rubber-stamping consents for risky major coastal developments and as a first step for every application –

  • require a robust up to date expert assessment of climate change and sea level rise impacts over at least a 100-year time frame, to be provided, as required by central government guidance and our laws
  • require that assessment to be peer-reviewed by independent coastal hazard experts