Thames-Coromandel District Council Registers a Coastal Inundation Hazard Notation on the Richmond Villas Title
Radio New Zealand has reported how in December 2018, TCDC quietly registered a hazard notation on the title of the Richmond Villas retirement village complex. This notation confirms that the site is subject to a natural hazard of coastal inundation (flooding), “because the land is considered to be subject to Inundation, being potential; flooding, overland flow, storm surge, tidal effects, and ponding”
The RNZ report has comment from a climate scientist James Renwick, a law expert Ken Palmer, and Insurance Council CEO Tim Grafton.
I have carried out my own research into the Richmond Villas decisions by TCDC and here is my take on it.
It’s The Correct Response – Just 14 years Too Late
This is the appropriate response from TCDC because it helps inform prospective purchasers of units within the retirement village – including the new apartment building – that the land is subject to coastal flooding. Unfortunately, it comes too late for those retirees who have already committed their savings to buy a dwelling or unit in the last 14 years.
But from now on at least it helps the buyer beware – (provided they or their solicitor checks the title and become aware of the natural hazard notation.) Also, the registration of the notation goes some way to protect TCDC from civil legal claims for granting a building consent for the new apartment complex on land known to be subject to a natural hazard. (Section 392 of the Building Act 2004)
But this belated action of TCDC in registering a hazard notation on the title is of no benefit to existing holders of licenses to occupy in the Richmond Villas complex. Since the original consent was granted in 2003 scores of retirees have made their decision to purchase a dwelling or unit without the advantage of knowing about a notation of a sea flood hazard. Those current residents have been left high and dry – or more accurately low and potentially wet.
Council Knew There was a Coastal Flooding Hazard
Even more unconscionable – TCDC was aware of a potential coastal inundation hazard for the site when resource and building consents were first granted in 2003 for the existing single level units :-
- When first assessing the resource and building consents for the existing units Council relied on a 2001 coastal hazard assessment from Tonkin and Taylor which projected just 0.49 m of sea level rise by 2100 and considered a 1-in-50-year event.
- As various stages in the development were subsequently consented, (including the 2017 apartments) TCDC did not once require the developer to provide updated sea level rise projections or a current coastal hazard assessment.
- From the outset, TCDC was also well aware from engineering and surveyors reports that the Richmond Villas land was subject to significant land subsidence. TCDC required specific foundations for the single level units to cope with the land settlement.
- TCDC also knew that land subsidence combined with sea level rise could pose an increased inundation threat to the development. How did they know this? – Because since the enlarged seawall was built around the Thames/Moanataiari subdivision in the early 2000’s TCDC has received yearly and five-yearly reports from engineering consultants Tonkin and Taylor. These reports highlighted that a combination of land subsidence and sea level rise will significantly increase the risk of coastal flooding for that subdivision.
- As early as the 1970’s TCDC was warned by the Ministry of Works that the adjacent seawall at Danby Field had already subsided by 1.5 m.
Council and Ratepayers Could Face Claims for Compensation
Further, the notation on the title will likely not protect TCDC from civil claims made by holders of an interest in existing retirement units, should they flood from the sea in the future. These retirees made their decision to purchase an interest in a unit before the notation was placed on the title.
Flooding from the sea is not some far-off unlikely event, it’s already a reality for Richmond Villas. On 5 January 2018, a storm surge over-topped the seawall and flooded the entrance to the existing units and came within centimetres of flooding some of them.
By granting resource and building consents for these existing single level units, but not requiring a coastal flooding hazard notation on the title at that time, TCDC has exposed itself and its ratepayers to potentially large claims for compensation. (The extensive claims made against local authorities for granting building consents for leaky homes provide an indication of what could happen).
Subsidence and Erosion Hazards are Not Noted on the Title
Consultants reports prepared for the resource consent application for the apartment building confirm that part of the land is subsiding at around 13 mm a year.
The apartment block has been designed to allow jacks to be installed in the basement to compensate for any uneven land subsidence.
A hazard assessment of the site from Waikato Regional Council also confirms that the land is subject to both riverbank and coastal erosion.
Land subsidence and erosion – just like coastal inundation are defined as natural hazards under the Building Act. But in spite of being warned to do so, TCDC has chosen not to provide any notation on the certificate of title about potential subsidence or erosion. Should uneven land subsidence cause damage to the units in the apartment block, retirees may be able to claim compensation from TCDC and its ratepayers.
How Come TCDC has Granted a Resource Consent for the Apartments?
If TCDC has concluded that the land is subject to coastal flooding how come it recently granted a resource consent for the new 72 unit three-story apartment complex on the site? The answer – which I will cover in more detail in a subsequent article is that TCDC –
- indulged in abysmal decision-making by disregarding the threat of coastal flooding,
- ignored high-level planning instruments such as the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement,
- misinterpreted the Resource Management Act and
- did not insist on up-to-date coastal hazard assessments –
all of which went unchallenged because the resource consent was considered without public notification.