Climate changes threaten low-lying coastal properties

Owners of low-lying properties around Mahurangi and Mangawhai could find it harder to develop their land if the Government accepts the recommendations of a draft NZ Productivity Commission report released this month.

The 306-page report looks at local government funding and financing, and some of the factors contributing to rising local government debt. These include providing infrastructure for fast-growing areas, maintaining services in areas with declining populations, higher environmental and public health expectations, growing demand pressures from tourism and the need to replace existing infrastructure coming to the end of its useful life.

The cost of adapting communities and infrastructure to mitigate the risks and hazards associated with sea level rise, and more frequent and extreme weather events, was also identified as a significant challenge for local councils.

The most direct threat was seen as the damage that climate change will cause to local government infrastructure such as roads and bridges, and stormwater, wastewater and flood-protection assets.

Relocating some of these services could cost billions of dollars.

The report states that councils are responsible for planning and regulating development on at-risk land and, therefore, have an important role in moderating future climate risk exposure.

“Councils are also the bodies closest to exposed communities and will be expected to engage with them on an adaptation strategy. They must manage both pressures from property owners to invest in defences against sea-level rise and flooding, and retreats from at-risk locations.”

Dr Judy Lawrence, of Victoria University’s Climate Change Research Institute, told Radio NZ that the issues are highly complex and will need a partnership response from central and local government.
“In some areas, protection such as seawalls will be appropriate but in other cases, it will mean retreating from the coast,” she said.

“What I find distressing is that councils are still consenting subdivisions in low-lying areas when they already have power under the Coastal Policy Statement to rectify that and to start refusing developments in those areas. In the long term, all they are doing is creating a legacy that our children and grandchildren will have to deal with.”

Dr Lawrence said planning needed to start now.

“We’re already seeing infrastructure failures in wastewater, flood control and freshwater systems. We need to get real or we will have some chaotic responses down the track if we risk a disorganised response to climate change.”

The Productivity Commission report states that the two broad principles which should be used to guide the funding of climate adaptation are minimising costs and risks over the long term, and fairness and justice.

“The first implies discouraging behaviour that leads to increased risk exposure for private gain at others’ expense,” the report says. “The second brings into play New Zealand’s tradition of societal support, risk sharing and inter-generational equity.”

The commission recommends that the Government create a new agency and a Local Government Resilience Fund. The new agency should work with at-risk councils and co-fund the redesign and possible relocation and rebuilding of wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.

The new agency should also assist regional councils and communities to work out the best way to lessen future flood risks from rivers. This could include moving to a new, more sustainable and best-practice paradigm of giving rivers room and developing multiple innovative uses of the wider river corridors.

On the broader issues of local government funding, the report recommends standardised templates for council development contribution policies and council assessments of development contribution charges for individual property developments; the removal of rates differentials and uniform annual general charges; and the phasing out of the Rates Rebate Scheme over a defined period, such as five years, from when an effective national Rates Postponement Scheme is in place.

Feedback and submissions close on August 29.

Read this story online to see the full Productivity Commission report.


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