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Friday
Jul012011

District Plan Change 3

The District Plan Change 3 hearing opened before Commissioner Cooney on Monday with verbal submissions over two days. There were 103 written submissions.

The following is extract from Council’s explanation:

The focus of the plan change is on avoiding the intensification of habitable buildings within flood hazard areas, while still allowing modifications such as additions to existing development in the lower hazard areas, provided the proposed work does not increase the existing risk to life and/or property. 

The proposed changes focus on 'avoidance' in high hazard areas and 'avoidance or mitigation' in the other flood hazard areas.   The Proposed Plan Change is supported by a considerable amount of flood modelling work that has been undertaken by  Environment Waikato).

For each of the 15 catchments that have been modelled by the Waikato Regional Council there is a 'River Flood Hazard Assessment' report. Within the reports there are maps called 'River Flood Hazard Map' showing the areas of 'high', 'medium' and 'low' risk in each catchment (and in some catchments 'defended' areas).  

The submissions were mainly from individuals concerned about the effect on their properties in regard to valuations, insurance and saleability. In the main, it has to be said that most of the submitters, by far the majority of which were from Thames, Parawai, Kauaeranga, Tararu and Thames Coast, will generally have been aware of the risk associated with the their property/s, and that those risks will already have been factored into their valuations, along with any possible mitigation measures that could be taken. Insurance will become fraught with difficulty for all of us - particularly since insurance companies appear to be lumping all homes within post code 3500 with the same impact on renewal.

However, there were a number of submitters that took the view that Council and EW officers had taken an inconsistent or deliberately oppressive approach in their particular case.  A great number of the submissions appeared to ignore the fact that the changes only applied to portion of their properties, and that this would not prevent normal activity on the remainder.

Nevertheless, there appeared a number of submitters whose cases had merit. By way of example, residents of Seaview Avenue in Te Puru where EW defensive works are within cooee of completion, objected to their properties being defined High Hazard – with a further change within a few months when the defensive works are completed – the submitters rightly claimed that it would be waste of time and money, but clearly timing is the issue with the current hearings being long in the pipeline. 

Commissioner Cooney will no doubt take some of the claims with a grain of salt, but he did take a particular interest in the submissions of Mr I D Findlay who lives at  Waiomu and who disputes the conditions of the High Hazard classification applied to his and other properties on Waiomu Valley Road. The classification prevents him from taking action (other than by resource consent) to mitigate the risk, and that he only purchased the property after seeking advice from Council as to the changes in floor level and garage location that would be required, and that were permissible at the time. The new classification now prevents these changes, the rationale for which was confirmed by the effect of the 2002 flood event. This has dramatically affected the market for both his and his neighbours property. There does seem to be a lack of flexibility in this classification, which no doubt the Commissioner will take into account when he presents his findings.

Mr Findlay went on make a further observation:

The Council seems intent on preventing this (the sale of houses in this category) taking place as part of their overall strategy. Their preference is clearly for these properties to become ‘open space’ as evidenced by the original notified proposed re-zoning of these properties. Council asserts that they must do this due to a ‘deal’ done with central government who provided some financial assistance following the 2002 flood event. As part of this ‘deal’ funds were provided to purchase badly affected properties, and this was done in some selected instances. It appears that Council has now exhausted the funds and are now unwilling to purchase these properties to achieve this ‘open space’.  Having obtained legal opinions that that they would not be liable for for implementing this strategy by way of a change that makes the properties unsaleable, they are persisting with policies, methods etc. that have exactly the same effect as their re-zoning strategy.

Whatever the truth of Mr Findlay’s assertions in this regard, it does open a can of worms, and there was no rebuttal of this evidence provided on the day.

Mr Findlay goes on to assert that Council’s claim that the Council’s argument that the designation does not place residents in any worse situation that they were in previously because of their ability to resort to the resource consent track  is untenable because of the prohibitive cost.

He pointed out that Council asserts that there are “not many properties in this category”, but that no compensation is offered as would be the case under the Public Works Act when property owners have to give up their rights.

Clearly, every ratepayer would be concerned if Council were required to compensate all those property owners who are affected in this manner by this change, but fairness and equity issues clearly intrude in this situation.

Mr Findlay made a few other very telling points in regard to the definitions that he considered illogical and counter-productive as used in the Change, but I won’t go further into them in this post.

He went on to contrast the scepticism applied to modelling techniques within the business with which he is associated and which is probably the largest in Thames, and the apparent total reliance placed on these techniques within the Change.

He concluded with the statement that:

When we wake up in the morning after this plan change comes into effect we will not be any less at risk from flood hazards than we were the day before. The only difference will,be that our lives will have been ruined by a plan change that has been brought to bear on us for having been willing to accept a risk from flooding that is less than the risk of driving a car.

Graeme Lawrence ended the proceedings with a submission that outlined his substantial experience as a planner in this area, and of the 17 storm and cyclone events since 1978.

Graeme was critical of a great deal of the modelling techniques, and the reliability of information used in the Change, and in particular that “the objectives do not provide for the different levels of risk accepted for different situations and circumstances”, and the difference between Greenfield and Brownfield development.

He claimed that aspects of the Change failed the test of s.32 of the RMA, “that are neither efficient or effective”. He points out that the information does not address the gaps between the existing and predictive effects. Also that the level of accuracy is suspect (in this regard, he corroborated Donald Sangster’s evidence).

Graeme asserted that Defended areas must retain development options rather than require consents as if the defences were not in place, and that maintaining defences should be a community rather than ‘area of benefit’ responsibility.

He was adamant that “new information on flood hazards must be used to enable less costly and more efficient means of developing industry at Kopu – the District’s industrial hub”.  He was critical of the need  for individual landowners to make resource consent applications that will be considered on an ad hoc basis – this is imposing an analysis and information burden on individual property owners out of proportion to the issues. He pointed to the Karaka as an example of floods no longer occur with the severity they once did, and that the flood modelling does not take sufficient account of overland flow paths. Mr Lawrence agreed with Mr Findlay that the Change places undue emphasis on a model, and does not address the major shortcomings of the previous flood hazard plan.

Graeme went on make a number of specific objections and concluded that the Change ”imposes an undue planning burden without adequate environmental gain”.  

He proposed that the Change “be put to one side and refined for inclusion in the current District Plan Review”.

You may or may not agree from this that there are a number of serious concerns that need to be addressed by Mr Cooney. My impression was that his findings may not be entirely in favour of unqualified adoption of the Change.

 

 

 

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