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District Plan Change 3 (2)

Commissioner Cooney's Decision & Recommendations became available on 5 September and went to Council on Wednesday 7 September. I had some difficulty at the time accessing his decision due to PDF/Word problems - now overcome.

The original background is provided in my 1 July post (District Plan Change 3)

There are some quite contentious recommendations within the Decision possibly giving rise to appeals that would involve the Council in substantial additional cost, but that is the nature of the animal.

I have directly quoted aspects of Commissioner Cooney's Decision below, and paraphrased other content in my commentary:


"In many areas of the Coromandel Peninsula, development has occurred on narrow landforms confined between steep inland catchments and the coast, alongside or near rivers or streams that flow from the catchments to the sea.  Development within those locations, which are often subject to high intensity rainfall events, are prone to flooding and in some areas require flood protection works or in other areas remain exposed to flood hazards.

In more recent times, the Peninsula has been hit by a number of severe storm events which have resulted in the loss of a life, caused extensive damage to properties, as well as causing surface flooding, slips, and isolating parts of the Peninsula.

After a particularly severe storm event in 2002, and in response to increasing public concern over the need to address flood hazards on the Peninsula, the Council with the assistance of the Waikato Regional Council, secured funding from central Government to promote a flood mitigation strategy including the promotion and adoption of land use controls through a Plan Change to manage both existing and future development in flood risk areas".

The main isues raised by submitters were:

"Submitters to Change 3 have raised a number of issues to support their opposition to the Change but essentially, their main concerns relate to the blighting effect Change 3 would have on property values, and the constraints imposed under the proposed land use controls on the ability of a property owner to develop a flood affected property, as well as potential problems over securing insurance cover in many instances.

These  core  issues  have  resulted in  submitters questioning  the  accuracy  of  the modelling, the justification for classifying properties into different risk categories, the unreasonableness of rules restricting the reasonable use of properties, and the failure to take into account the true causes of flooding".

Since most of the submitters disputed the Change proposal though questioning of the modelling used by Environment Waikato and TCDC, Commissioner Cooney gave considerable attention to this aspect before arriving at the conclusion that with minor exceptions, the modelling used was defensible:

"The overall objective of Change 3 is to put in place restrictions on development to avoid flood risk to people and to reduce the risk to property.  Change 3 as notified, seeks to achieve that objective by strengthening the objectives and policies relating to flood hazards in order to promote the avoidance of subdivision or the building of new houses or the building of habitable additions to existing houses in high risk areas, and by making those activities non-complying activities. Areas identified as high flood risk were to be re-zoned Open Space and Hazard Zone".


"For buildings or subdivision in the medium to low risk areas, or in a defended area, measures are required to be taken to mitigate the risk of flooding such as complying with floor height standards or being designed to accommodate the flood hazard. Buildings and subdivisions in those areas are classified as permitted, restricted discretionary or discretionary activities, depending on the type of activity occurring in the different risk categories".

Commissioner Cooney then went into some detail concerning issues raised by particular owners concerning the classification proposed for their property, and drew attention to the need for high level of accuracy in applying modelling data to particular properties. He was particularly concerned that the small "specs" of properties identified as as hazardous could influence the hazard category of the entire property, and accordingly recommended their removal. This would satisfy a large number of objectors. 

He also recommended that based on risk assessment that the Te Puru catchment map be amended to reflect the degree of protection afforded by the just completed flood protection works. That will be a relief to residents in that category. And at the same time, he agreed with a late recommendation of the planning consultant that the proposed Open Space and Hazard Zone category be deleted from Change 3 - that will be a relief to a number of objectors who submitted that this was unnecessary and contradictory.

As suggested in my earlier post, Mr Ian Findlay drew attention, along with a number of other submitters as to the  inconsistency of the proposed change in restricting re-development of existing property within Change 3 hazard areas aimed at mitigating risk - i.e. increasing floor height. The restriction was given short shrift by Commissioner Cooney in his subsequent findings, and the definitions of the various categories refined accordingly. He also accepted challenges by some submitters regarding the blanket categorisation of sub-divisions, and a submission  from Graham Lawrence concerning the need for certainty as to floor levels (.5m above predicted flood level for a 1% flood event).

Although satisfied as to the risk categories identified in the flood hazard maps, Commissioner Cooney recommended that Council adopt Plan Change 3 along with the changes that I have identified above, and this was done at the meeting on 28 September.

By no means will all of the objectors be satisfied, but in general, the quality of the decision illustrates the value of having an outside, experienced Commissioner undertake hearings of this nature. Many residents will be effected by his findings, and many will remain deeply resentful, but I doubt if anyone can point to any unfairness in the manner in which Commissioner Coney has arrived at his decisions.

The most important alteration that he made to the Change in my opinion, relates to the removal of uncertainty in regard to the 'non-complying' status of works undertaken to mitigate risk.  Council staff may have some misgivings, but it is a reasonable response to a reasonable complaint.




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