Tuesday, February 27, 2024

‘Difficult conversations’ coming on flood funds

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The report was a starting point for discussions on how these communities will mitigate flood risk
Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty announced the amendments and an attempted rebranding of the policy as “affordable water”.
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Difficult conversations about the future of many poorer, flood-prone rural communities (taiwhenua hapori) are going to have to be had in the near future after a government report highlighted the areas that will face the biggest challenges.

An Internal Affairs commissioned report has identified more than 40 communities sharing the twin burdens of low socio-economic status and elevated risk of flooding, with inadequate infrastructure for protection. 

Minister for Emergency Management and Associate Minister for Local Government Kieran McAnulty said the report was a starting point for discussions on how these communities will mitigate flood risks that are only likely to increase, thanks to climate change (panoni āhuarangi).

“These are difficult conversations that have to happen in the future. We are not signalling that communities will necessarily have to move, but there will be some changes for them.”

More than half of the communities identified are in the North Island and fall into clusters found in Northland, Bay of Plenty, Waikato, and East Coast. The report overlaid NIWA flood data with socio-economic data on household net wealth and income for districts. 

Communities like East Coast have half their households in the bottom 20% of socio-economic indicators. 

Westport, the victim of repeated flood events with an average household income of $54,000 a year is reported as among NZ’s lowest socio-economic areas. 

McAnulty said the report was prompted by the repeated flooding at Westport and the government (karauna) was considering the business case for how best to fund and restore the community.

“What it does speak to is it cannot continue in the same way for every community in the country that is affected.” 

He acknowledged concerns over funding had also been heightened after the devastating flood events that have since laid to waste kilometres of roading infrastructure in the Nelson-Marlborough district.

“Marlborough may well be the first case in the country where these conversations have to happen.”

 In July last year $80million of damage was inflicted upon the community’s road network, and government stepped in with 95% of the funding.

“But even that 5% required from the community, that was still a huge amount for it.”

Since then, the area was hit again this August, and the infrastructure bills are mounting. 

Estimates are that the long, windy but vital Kenepuru Road link would cost $160m to rebuild, with a total regional repair bill of about $400m across the region. 

The eye watering amount has compelled Waka Kotahi to call for a review into the future of roads in Marlborough Sounds, while farmers have been compelled to rely on barges for access.

“The more rural you are the bigger the issue, Marlborough is a perfect example of that.”

McAnulty said the issues raised bigger questions over local government funding mechanisms, something central government was now starting to look at.

“Their ability to increase investment through rates is almost non-existent due to lower real incomes and a higher portion of fix income earners.”

Opotiki in eastern Bay of Plenty has been identified as one of the areas and ranks among the lowest in the country in deprivation rankings.  

Newly appointed mayor David Moore said he was aware his district was identified in the report but maintained it had not been a case of nothing being done about the flood risk.

“Opotiki is surrounded by two rivers, it’s not the best place to put a town, but it is what it is.” 

Since the flood protection scheme installed over the 1960s and 70s the town had some close calls but so far had escaped the devastation the likes of Westport suffered.

Looking to the future the town was the beneficiary of one of the largest single grants under the Provincial Growth Fund, receiving almost $100m to develop a mussel industry and improve the town’s harbour entrance.

“The harbour entrance work based off modelling is likely to alleviate future flooding risk by having a wider mouth to it.”

But Moore acknowledged communities like his with small rating bases faced a big challenge in upgrading against risk.

“For us with only about 5500 ratepayers and 50% of the Bay of Plenty coastline, we can’t do it on our own.”

The vulnerable communities report can be read here.

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