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Sea level rise: coming to a town near you

Written By: - Date published: 10:52 am, December 12th, 2017 - 39 comments
Categories: climate change, disaster, Environment, local government - Tags:

An in-depth piece from Newsroom:

We know the seas are rising, yet we’re still building large developments within a few metres of present-day sea levels. The tough decisions faced by one coastal council illustrate the struggles going on around New Zealand, report Eloise Gibson and Cass Mason.

39 comments on “Sea level rise: coming to a town near you”

  1. Great article. The ignorance of these councils is beyond the pale. Basically that are condemning their citizens in these developments where rising sea levels, king ride and storm surge vulnerablities aren’t even being considered. Come on James test this in court – permissions for development without considering cc is negligence imo.

    • With so much uncertainty, councils can find themselves open to costly challenges from property owners. In 2013, after a high court challenge, Kapiti Coast council backed away from adding warnings that would have restricted new building and subdivision in the hazard zone. In 2015, Christchurch City Council enraged some residents by placing coastal hazard warnings on their properties, with homeowners protesting the “speculative” and “overly precautionary” limits.

      Doesn’t appear to be the councils that are the problem.

      • savenz 1.1.1

        +100 – but the answer is to change the environment court which is essentially not fit for purpose and is a development court. The environment court is not protecting NZ long term interests.

        Property is a very profitable area and so open to fraud, pressure and dishonesty. The so called environment court’s rules are not fit for purpose, it should be run more like a criminal court rather than at present it is very much about a process that is misused at every turn by environmental lawyers who are all in each other’s pockets and there is zero punishment for fraudulent and misleading applications and information. The costs are high and it is often very difficult to challenge fraudulent facts and it’s very easy to delay and use mediation which is completely non transparent to derail the process. At the very least if it comes to light once consented that information was incorrect then the person supplying it should be barred and fined at the very least and the consent stopped and a new consent had to be put in.

        The environment court is pretty much like the business courts for trade agreements. Not at all accountable and very inbred. Needs radical change and much more criminal punishment for rogue lawyers and consultants.

        We have Pike River and the CTV building that have been killers of people and should never have been consented – nobody ever bought to justice for the deaths even though they were preventable.

        Poor resource consent rulings and building consents are killers and there is too much profiteering and dishonesty in that area that the Mr plod planners, building consent officers and council staff can easily be bamboozled especially by lengthy reports full of unverified paid per word facts that hide all the real information. The commissioners are picked and paid by the council and the ‘reform’ the Natz did to the environmental court were to turn it more dysfunctional and get rid of the better people.

        NZ consenting needs reform back to a more sustainable and risk adverse approach especially since we are facing a disaster ridden future with climate change.

        • savenz

          Apparently they also tried to put a flood warning of the LIMS on Omaha where John Key has a holiday house. But all the rich lawyers rushed in and threatened the council as it would lead to their houses going down in value so it never went ahead. No doubt the rate payers and tax payers will be fitting the disaster bill when that area gets decimated by flooding – which they know is going to happen because they have the report from the geotechs and engineers, but still more building there and large properties too.

  2. Sabine 2

    well i guess once Insurance companies stop insuring such properties they will then become slums to be rented, inundations be damned until even the poorest will refuse to live in these houses.

    But unless the Insurance companies stop insuring these monstrosities (MacMansions, large, no taste and essentially no value) nothing will be done.

  3. Takere 3

    One way I guess to sink the Marutuahu Waka?

  4. Macro 4

    ““Nah, I’ll be dead by then,” says the owner of a waterfront business in Whitianga, when asked if she’s worried about rising seas.”
    From the report linked to above.
    And so will all of the Thames Coromandel District Councillors – “wat them worry!”
    The majority of our councillors are grey bearded old men who frankly haven’t got a clue with respect to the impending problems of AGW and associated SLR.
    It’s not as if they haven’t been told. Along with a host of others (Including Dennis Tegg and Thomas Evert), I too have submitted to Council on the threats facing the region in the near future. Thames Coromandel has one of the longest stretches of coast line of any district in the country. One of it’s most important arterial routes SH25 follows this coastline from Thames to Coromandel Town. Even now, it is cut following storms, not just from slippage, but also from damage caused by storm surge which will only increase in the years ahead.
    Flooding in Thames is not a new occurrence. The town has always been subject to the threat of flooding – even 150 years ago in 1867. This year marks the 150th Celebration of the formation of the town – then called “The Thames”, and a description of the town when 18,000 people rushed here in the 3 months following the declaration of the opening of the Goldfield in August 1867 was of a sea of mud.
    Council has been upgrading infrastructure in recent years – particularly upgrading storm water drains in the low lying areas – but the impending danger will swamp all of that. This is stop gap. There is huge pressure on the town to increase areas available for housing – retirees are exiting the Auckland market and moving to a town with a hospital, close to the sea, a viable shopping centre, and only an hour or two away from 3 major cities (Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga). With 3 retirement villages Thames has one of the highest percentages of +65’s in the country . The apartment block approval is in part a response to that.
    The problems faced by the TCDC Thames Coromandel District Council are in part those that are facing all regional councils around NZ . Tauranga, Napier, Wellington and the Hutt, Auckland, Christchurch, and of course Dunedin are all facing inundation of vital areas as the seas around NZ continue to rise. We need anot just a local response to these matters but also a national conversation as to how we as a country can deal with this.

  5. Bill 5

    Something I suspect many aren’t taking into account is that OS Maps give elevations above sea level based on the mid-point of high and low tides.

    Expected sea level rises (at least from a recent CoE report) are given in terms of rises above maximum high tide.

    In other words, if you are sitting on property that has an elevation of 1.5m and you expect sea level rise to be coming in at 1m, and reckon, therefore, that your property is safe, then yeah, nah. You’re under.

  6. roy 6

    Well I think it could be a great idea. Everyone loves Venice, but it’s too crowded. Why can’t we all build a Venice of our own and have all the gondolas and canals an shit?

    • weka 6.1

      storm surges would be one reason.

      Isn’t Venice sinking?

      • roy 6.1.1

        There must be a way to protect against those things if you build with them in mind. Modular storeys so you can just go up (half a) level every 100 years? Underground stadia that can used most of the time, but allowed to flood and buy time every storm surge? Wouldn’t hold back a tsunami of course, but the odd King Tide.

        I’m only half joking. There must be a way to adapt and live with it. Trying to run away is the only choice IF we insist on the idea of permanence.

        • weka

          I think there are lots of things we can do with the reality of the situation. I once wrote this about South Dunedin –

          Future-proofing requires that we utilise the most resilient infrastructure when solving CC induced problems. Big, ballsy, costly, Muldoon-esque, high energy-using schemes are doomed to fail. Because not only is the infrastructure itself susceptible to failure from CC events and quakes (at which point the suburb is screwed and there is no money to replace it so all that money, fossil fuels and time are basically wasted), but we don’t know what CC is going to do. Are we talking about a flood from the kinds of rainfall we had last year in Dunedin? Or double that? Is that a ten year event or a yearly event? How quickly is the sea going to rise and how much? (plus what has been said elsewhere about infrastructure that is under or at ground level being vulnerable).

          Instead, you design solutions around what you know. Knowing that you don’t know is part of that. For instance, the DCC pretty soon should prohibit all building of housing in South Dunedin unless it is moveable. If we don’t know what the time frames are, then design around that.

          If the area is going to be a swamp again, how can we make use of that by working with that? Can it be recreational (wetland sports)? Food producing? Basically give up trying to assert dominance over the natural systems and learn how to work with them.


          That was in April 2016 and DCC are indeed moving now on prohibiting new builds in South Dunedin that can’t be moved.

          We have plenty of land in NZ if we move to a steady state economy and population. At the very least what we should be doing now is not building residential or industrial in low lying areas, areas that are prone to liquefaction, and areas that have lots of flammable plant species. Just stop that shit.

          The places that are already like that can be managed over time, but the biggest stumbling block is we run the country on the idea that personally owned equity is where our wealth is. Those houses in the wrong place become a much easier solve if it’s not for that.

          • timeforacupoftea

            I wrote this on here on 6 April 2017 at 7:38 pm

            These guys are crazy from The University of Otago’s Centre for Sustainability always negative with no solutions only retreat retreat retreat, but then you expect that from an academic don’t you.

            It was far worse in the 1950’s 1960’s, our back yard in Tainui would go under water 5 times a year, but the water receeded very quickly.
Around the late 1960’s the council built a pumping station and our back yard would only flood once or twice a year.
We could dig down 2 spade depths in the winter and water would come and go daily, maybe it was tidal I never new why.
Old photos of Tainui showed most of the area as a sort of inlet.
Where Tahuna Intermediate School is, in the 1950’s that was a large pond where in winter it would freeze over and I could walk across it and play etc. It would stay frozen for a couple of weeks. Winters were much colder then at least at night but beautiful clear days.
If the sea is ever to rise we do have many options, here are two ideas.

            1) A dam could be built between St Martins Island and Portobello.
A lock could be built between St Martins Island and the mainland near Port Chalmers and ships could be allowed up into the upper harbour when there was no chance of flooding in South Dunedin. But most of the time the upper harbour could be kept at half tide or whatever height tide was necessary to keep South Dunedin dry.
Which means there is this huge area for drainage during heavy rain etc.
Some parts of the Upper Harbour could be filled in for future housing.

            2) Part of the upper harbour could be filled in obviously higher than the Portobello Road and block by block of South Dunedin could be shifted there temporarily so each block of South Dunedin could be raised to the required height above predicted sea level, then the houses could be shifted back.
You might ask where would we get the fill from. Well there are many hills around Dunedin so no worry there.

            The Council knows best the sea is not rising.
            A couple of weeks ago our hopeless Dunedin City Council announced a 30 year plan.
            One a hotel on the edge of the harbour.
            Incidentally it looks like an open sandwich with 3 sets of kitchen tongs standing in the air handles buried in sand.

            TODAY our idiot Dunedin City Councillors / majority green decided today to build a bridge across the railway line for (listen) $20million.
            The road bridge is only 40 meters south which I can cycle over with a puff or two and walk over easily.
            A foot bridge is available 400 meters north I see people push bikes up the stairs ok.
            Another 100 meters north a level railway crossing with automatic arms is available.

            The $20 million van Brandenburg bridge at the Dunedin harbourside has got the unanimous backing of the Dunedin City Council.
            The plan for a bridge on Rattray St between the Chinese Garden and the Steamer Basin was described as an ”extraordinary opportunity” that could spark development by the harbourside.

            The council included $20 million in its draft 10-year plan for an architecturally designed walking and cycling bridge as part of the city to waterfront connection project.

            The initiative comes after Damien van Brandenburg presented his vision for the redevelopment of the Steamer Basin, which included the bridge.

            Two other options were explored in the plan, including a basic design for the bridge or upgrades to the Jetty St overbridge costing between $6-10 million.

            At the council 10-year plan meeting, Cr David Benson-Pope moved the $20 million option, with the $6 million to $10 million ”lesser bridge” also put out for community consultation.

            Cr Benson-Pope said Mr van Brandenburg’s design was ”an extraordinary opportunity”.

            Councillors supported the bridge, though some raised concerns about the process by which it had been included in the draft plan.

            Cr Chris Staynes said the $20 million option would recognise the world class design that came from Dunedin, and attract the sort of investment required at the harbour.

            The council had to follow process, but ”surely we need some vision”.

            Mayor Dave Cull said the bridge was ”the only way to go”.

            A utilitarian bridge would not be good enough for the wider vision of the harbourside.

            Sorry about our South Dunedin Labour supporters, just bugger off and drown. that last sentence is me (timeforacupoftea) being a tad silly.

        • SpaceMonkey

          Floating homes.

  7. Cinny 7

    Once again, excellent work by Newsroom, well done to their team.

    Thanks to technology we have a chance to take action and lessen the impact. When climate change has happened in the past whole developed civilisations have vanished, starvation/crop failure, flooding, drought etc etc etc. This time we know it’s coming, this time humanity is advanced enough to cope with it.

    Climate change must be factored into any new infrastructure and the like. Not only location, but also materials used (ie will the roads melt etc etc). Alternative energy and ways to grow crops, desalination plants etc. Doing nothing is not an option, our very survival is dependent on it.

    Massive opportunities for manufacturing sectors.

    It’s nothing new to flood a town, muldoon did it with the Clyde Dam, Clyde was originally a gold mining town. Very lucky to have so many hills in NZ, it’s not like we are going to lose whole islands like other south pacific nations.

    Councils should alter their long term plans to factor it in. Is that law? It should be.

    • weka 7.1

      well the Clyde Dam and the flooding of old Cromwell and the orchards and homes in the gorge was hugely controversial.

      Also, Muldoon had to override the High Court via legislation in order to get the dam built. That’s basically the government saying that it’s omnipotent.

    • solkta 7.2

      “When climate change has happened in the past whole developed civilisations have vanished, starvation/crop failure, flooding, drought etc etc etc.”

      My understanding of the science is that the climate has been relatively stable for at least the past 300,000 years and that settled agriculture has only been a human practice for about 12,000 years. Saying that this is something that human civilization has faced before just plays into denialist propaganda.

  8. Pat 8

    “But any path that involves moving people will probably involve compensation. “I’m a property owner,” says Liefting, “and if someone said to me, ‘the long-term option is get out of here’, I’d think, ‘Well am I going to be compensated because I’ve bought in good faith that my property is going to be there forever.’ “We can’t even bring managed retreat to the table unless compensation is brought with it.”

    As the article states councils are not equipped to deal with this, in fact Id suggest central gov. will struggle to find a politically acceptable solution…..the Christchurch and Kapiti examples listed are portents of the likely response…never mind the FIRE implications.




  9. The Fairy Godmother 9

    Why can’t councils utilise these areas currently as public space ie playing fields community gardens. At least when the sea levels rise their won’t be so much at stake. I guess we need a change from neo liberal thinking.

    • weka 9.1

      I think so. So much is currently drive by the neoliberal imperative to treat housing as a financial investment (which I think is in turn drive by the neoliberal idea that people have to save their own money for retirement).

  10. Whispering Kate 10

    In todays RNZ news listening to the Californian report on their wild fires, the reporter said the fire fighters were desperately trying to divert the fires from reaching the coast where all the multi-million sea front homes were – I wondered if the Insurance companies were giving a nudge nudge to the first responder bosses about the crippling payouts they will be facing. Also the influence from rich listers has no bounds. Pity the poor sods in the hinterlands who are now homeless. Marvellous how wealthy areas never seem to get wrecked – such is life – be rich I suppose. Anyway if this isn’t climate change in all its fury I don’t know what is. Shortly there will be no area not ravaged by fire in the US, or flooded by hurricanes or blown over by their tornados.

  11. Naish agrees reparation will be an issue. “Obviously, councils want development,” he says. “It’s good for their local economies, it’s what ratepayers want. But if there is going to be legislation put in place that says, ‘Okay, these people have to retreat and this area cannot be built on’, then the issue of compensation is going to have to be thought about.”

    And that would be retrospective legislation and, so, compensation doesn’t need to be considered. Thinking that things are always going to stay the same is not logical especially when we’ve known about global warming and it’s consequences for more than thirty years. Buying something always contains risk well, time to wear that risk.

    • savenz 11.1

      I’d say most ratepayer’s don’t want development. All it means in most cases is higher rates to pay for all the developers infrastructure, more traffic and worse services in many cases. In the case of the Kaipara residents their council putting through a secret development infrastructure for wastewater bankrupted the council and their rates were raised something like 50% which caused massive hardships and in some cases people losing their homes. The CEO’s of the council’s like development so they can keep their corporate salaries rising – the ratepayers less so.

  12. feijoa 12

    We bought a house on a hill 20 years ago . We knew about climate change then. Buggered if my taxes are going to bail out all these climate deniers…
    (is that mean?…)

    • weka 12.1

      I don’t know if it’s mean or not. It’s going to become an issue when we reach internal refugee levels though. Should we turn out backs on people then? Important conversation.

      • savenz 12.1.1

        Prevention is always better than the cure! They know what’s gonna happen so they should have things in place yesterday not still wondering if they should do something. It’s like bombing a city and then complaining about the refugees. Stop bombing the cities should be the first step in prevention – (and in the case of climate change, don’t build near the coast that will rise or have it on stilts, stop allowing all the trees on cliffs and banks to be cut down and then gasp when there is a landslide, stop all the impermeable surfaces being built on and paved and be surprised when there is more flooding, etc etc).

        Be glad NZ has a small population and grow food because we have WAY less problems than other countries already.

    • Lara 12.2

      There’s a new few sections down the road from me, one of them barely 1/2 a metre above sea level and right by the water on the estuary. Close to a big surf beach.

      The people building these homes on these sections must surely deny the evidence of climate change. As does our bloody stupid and useless council Kaipara DC.

      When their homes are flooded then sure, give them emergency shelter. But no compensation from the pockets of the rest of us who have been prudent and sensible. No. Fucking. Way.

  13. cleangreen 13

    Every year in Gisborne we looose a meter od our coastal beach areas to the sea, so we can see what is going on every year.

    Soon they will be forced to build homes on concrete steel poles like in what I saw happening on most low land areas of the East coast regions of America.

    We in HB are facing creeping seafront ruination of homes from rising sea levels, so time is not our side.

  14. Whispering Kate 14

    Cleangreen – we visit Hawkes Bay quite a bit to see family and have been horrified at what has happened to Haumoana Beach and Clifton Motor Camp. We spent our honeymoon at the camp and now its changed so much. At Haumoana Beach we saw houses falling onto the beach and seawalls built by residents subsiding and falling apart, The Airport at Napier will be under water in the future and many of the suburbs on the flat need pumping out when it floods. There is a new housing subdivision at Te Awa and its visibly below sea level, the City Council needs its head read allowing housing to be built there. Incidently there is a new subdivsion that has been named Poriati on the flat in Taradale/Greenmeadows – since when has Poriati been on the flat – it is a hilly beautiful area above Taradale with lovely views. Typical Realtors fudging the truth.

    • savenz 14.1

      “… the City Council needs its head read”.

      Anything for a $1. It was the Napier council that blamed the water shortage on residents and then allowed 2 cruise ships to take 1% of the water in a single sitting. Apparently that doesn’t matter though.

      The Havelock North poisoning… need we say more.

      Clearly many of the councils around that area do not seem invested in their residents lives and future well being, more interested in short term profits for their mates and investors.

    • Kevin 14.2

      The subdivision you are talking about in Napier is Parklands.

      There is a private development on the hill at Poraiti which the Council has been it’s usual difficult best over, but it is moving forward.

      Most of Napier’s flat suburbs like Onekawa, Maraenui, Pirimai, Marewa etc are basically at sea level on land uplifted by the 1931 earthquake so not really places I would want to live in either an earthquake or with rising sea levels.

      A large percentage of that land is also leasehold, owned by the Council so not sure what affect this will have.

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