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Coastal erosion- who foots the bill?

At SOLGM’s recent Summit 2019, Hawkes Bay Regional Council’s Chris Dolley updated delegates on the Clifton to Tangoio Coastal Hazard Strategy 2120. Right across the country, he says, the question of funding is critical.

 Since late 2014, Hawkes Bay councils and iwi have been working together to develop the Clifton to Tangoio Coastal Hazard Strategy 2120. Clifton to Tangoio is an approximately 50 kilometre stretch of coast containing a significant portion of the Napier and Hastings population and infrastructure. Right from the outset, the strategy was designed to also include, at a later stage, Central Hawkes Bay and Wairoa if value were seen in expanding the scope across the whole of the Hawkes Bay coast.

The project vision is that coastal communities, business and critical infrastructure are resilient to the effects of coastal hazards.

One of the most positive aspects of the project is the community has an appetite to be engaged around coastal hazards. This has, in part, been motivated by erosion along the coastline in various locations.

Work is already underway in several places. Since the mid ’80s, re-nourishment has been undertaken in Westshore to maintain the shingle beach. The current cost of this activity is around $400,000 funded jointly by Hawkes Bay Regional Council and Napier City Council.

And Hastings District Council recently invested just over $1 million in the construction of a revetment to stabilise the Clifton area of the coastline.

Meanwhile, a group of 21 ocean-side houses in Haumoana – the Haumoana 21 – continue to suffer frequent erosion during storm events. And there is ongoing debate around the funding of work at Whakirere Ave in Napier. Work is currently on hold pending resolution of the funding model.

The Clifton to Tangoio Coastal Hazard Strategy 2120 is a long-term project. Started in late 2014, it will still be several years before the first cycle will be completed.

The project is based on a dynamic pathway policy methodology so we are not locking ourselves into any particular solution for the long term. Pathways notionally span 0-20, 20-50, and 50-100 years. Solutions may have shorter or longer lives depending on signals and triggers from storm events and in response to global warming and sea level rise.

Throughout the process, the community has made one opinion very clear: managed retreat is opposed unless there are no other options available.

Community involvement was especially significant during Stage 3 of the evaluation panel process during which 11 workshops were held with each of the Northern and Southern Panels over 12 months to determine the preferred pathway for each priority coastal cell.

The end result is a preferred pathway for each cell that has a huge level of ownership from the coastal community. One of the concerns now is how to consult on the strategy with the wider community and how that consultation will take place. That is because it is linked to the question of who will fund any agreed pathways.

A key challenge is maintaining the confidence of the public involved in the process to date. After intensive engagement in 2017, the level of interaction with the community has softened as the project focuses on a series of technical reports which will be presented back to the community in early 2020.

People from a small section of the community believe the strategy is not being progressed fast enough and that engineering works should start now.

The councils of Hawkes Bay and iwi have worked well together. The coastal process doesn’t abide by district council boundaries: what occurs on one part of the coast can influence what happens in an adjacent cell. That makes it doubly important that everyone works together to understand the strategy as a whole.

The Coastal Strategy Joint Committee is comprised of members from: Hawkes Bay Regional Council, Napier City Council, Hastings District Council, Mana Ahuriri Incorporated Maungaharuru Tangitu Trust and Heretaunga Tamatea Settlement Trust.

One of the strengths of working with a joint committee is that it can draw on a wide range of views. However, this also adds complexity as each partner council then needs to agree to each major decision. This has resulted in significant time delays.

An important learning from this process over the past year is the importance of keeping councillors from all three organisations informed along the journey.

Preliminary analysis put the cost of the full strategy at around $350 million. While this is a big number, there is a significant period of time to invest. Under the current concept design work package, these costs are being refined. However, the recommended pathways developed in collaboration with the community at risk will represent a significant investment by the whole community.

Funding is a major decision required for the strategy to continue. In the past 60 years there have been many attempts to respond to coastal erosion on the Cape Coast around Te Awanga, Haumoana and Clifton. These attempts have typically failed when it comes to a funding decision.

In some respects, the technical work around potential solutions and the engineering standards of those solutions is the easier part of the equation. The real key is to unlock the question of how the response to coastal erosion and inundation is to be funded.

A key point that we need to get across to decision-makers is that there is not an option that doesn’t cost anything. The cost of doing nothing will be gradual destruction of peoples’ homes, communities and social connections in an unplanned and ad hoc way. Either way, someone pays. There is no option of doing nothing.

The Joint Committee and partner councils are working through this difficult issue at the moment. A lot of work is being done around the country in assessing the impact or cost of coastal erosion and inundation. Much less work is being done on the financial and social impacts of funding the transition.

We could definitely benefit from some guidance on this. Should we dogmatically follow the Local Government Act principle of beneficiary pays? Or should we take an approach more akin to social insurance? Should the community contribute to works to protect someone’s primary home, for someone’s holiday bach or investment property?

While there is a lack of clarity on who is accountable it’s very easy to look to other organisations for leadership or, alternatively, end up with different policy settings across the country.

Chris Dolley is group manager asset management at Hawke’s Bay Regional Council. Chris.Dolley@hbrc.govt.nz

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