Tamaki Regeneration project is being built in an area deemed at high risk from the effects of climate change

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The Tamaki Regeneration Company is building thousands of homes on land an Auckland Council report has highlighted as being at high risk from the effects of climate change.

But what does it mean for the company responsible for the development, or the local authority that signed off the consents?

The properties are being built by the Tamaki Regeneration Company in partnership with HLC a subsidiary of Housing New Zealand and will see at least 7,500 state, affordable, KiwiBuild and private houses built over the next 20 years. The development is taking place on land in Point England, Glen Innes and Panmure which was previously home to 2,500 state houses. The Tamaki Regeneration Company was established in 2016 and is jointly owned by the government and the Auckland Council.

But a recently released report for the Auckland Council’s Research and Evaluation Unit (RIMU) titled: An assessment of vulnerability to climate change in Auckland, shows most of the area has been highlighted as being prone to the future effects of climate change.

The paper spells out how different areas in the Auckland region will be affected by climate change and how likely they will be to adapt to the changes. The ability for an area to adapt takes into account a number of elements, including socio-economic, demographic and climatic factors.   

Glen Innes, Point England and Tamaki are all identified as vulnerability hotspots. Defined as areas likely to suffer from high levels of climate change impact with a low level of capacity to adapt. 

Auckland Council chief sustainability officer John Mauro is more than aware of the growing concerns around climate change in the region. From flooding and extreme weather events to rising sea levels and increased temperatures, they are all issues the council is looking at in a series of research papers on climate change, which includes the latest RIMU report.

“Without seeing the actual the sea level rise and flooding maps for Tamaki I can’t articulate specifically what the risks are there,” Mauro says. “But I can acknowledge that they do exist in some locations and what we’re trying to do now is make sure that we now incorporate anticipated sea level rises into the maps we use for land use planning. We’re trying to include this information into the tools that we all use to make decisions around things like planning.”

Mauro says it’s not just the physical impacts highlighted in the report that make communities vulnerable, but also their socio-economic status and their access to services and infrastructure, and for some that will only get worse due to climate change.

However, he says the Tamaki Regeneration project is trying to address some of the socio-economic and planning factors that would have made it difficult for people in the area to adapt.

“But clearly we need to be thinking about what the impacts will be, what we need to do to prepare for those impacts and when different options needs to come into the picture. I think there’s a whole set of solutions in the future we need to think about now.

“Our current Unitary Plan does make it clear for greenfield and brownfield developments, where you can and can’t develop based on rising sea levels and the projected levels of rising sea levels. So that’s actually codified in our development regulations. Does it need to be looked at again? Of course. We get more information over time and it needs to be adjusted.”

He says Auckland addressing climate change in Auckland won’t be easy as it’s a very complex issue.

But he says the council’s latest round of research will help inform it and help direct its future decision making. The latest council reports on climate change will be used to create an Auckland Climate Action Plan (ACAP) which is expected to be released later this year.

The Tamaki Regeneration Company spokesman says they are aware of the RIMU report and the company will review the findings and use them to inform its future planning.

“One of the reasons Tamaki has been highlighted as home to three of the 64 “vulnerable hotspots” in the report is its residents may have a greater risk of being impacted by climate change due to factors such as having a lower average household income, higher housing stress and rating highly on the deprivation index.”

It says it is seeking to address many of these issues as part of its redevelopment work.

“We are aware of the potential impact of climate change in Tamaki and take this seriously in our future planning. Our future planning takes into account overland flow paths, flood prone and flood sensitive areas, and Auckland Council modelling of coastal inundation in particularly low-lying areas. The majority of Tamaki Regeneration’s land ownership is inland from the coast. Many of these areas are higher up in the catchment and less likely to be impacted by coastal inundation.

“Comprehensive redevelopment in Tamaki over the next 20 years also provides an opportunity to deliver new stormwater and wastewater infrastructure. This infrastructure renewal will enhance the environment and improve Tamaki’s ability to cope with changing weather patterns caused by climate change.”

Last week Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) released a report by QC Jack Hodder which says the country’s councils will increasingly face legal action due to climate change.

“There are an increasing number of climate change cases being litigated around the world, mainly brought by private individuals against public authorities. Groups and individuals are getting more and more creative with bringing claims – unless central government steps in, the judiciary will likely play a greater role in developing legal rules in this area.”

Hodder says the planning and statutory roles played by councils means they could be hit hard in the legal action by those affected by climate change, especially if they feel council decision making has played a part in their predicament.

He says in the New Zealand legal context it’s up to local authorities to control development and help protect coastal regions. He says currently the litigation risk for council centres around their decision to limit development. But that is changing:

“In the future it seems likely to extend to the consequences of allowing development and failing to implement adaptation measures (e.g. from homeowners suffering the physical and economic consequences of climate change in the longer term).

“There has not yet been any large damages claim in relation to failure to implement adaptation measures in New Zealand. However, it may be only a matter of time.”

The report spells out the legal responsibilities local government has under the Local Government Act and the Resource Management Act which could be used against them in relation to climate change.

He says under the Resource Management Act 1991 (“RMA”) local authorities “must have particular regard to maintenance and enhancement of the quality of the environment, and to the effects of climate change [s 7]” when exercising their powers.

“Also under the RMA, local authorities’ functions extend to controlling the effects of the use or development of land, including to avoid or mitigate natural hazards [s 31]. And the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010 requires local authorities to “ensure” that coastal hazard risks are managed and identified for a period of at least 100 years, taking account of climate change, and applying a precautionary approach.

And with such legal responsibilities there is also the threat of legal liability if council’s have failed to meet them. Which means council’s “are an obvious potential defendant if and when climate litigation gains greater traction here”.

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