December 10, 2023

Mass evacuations spark questions over why Napier development below high tide mark was approved

A landscape architect is asking why the recent development of a subdivision within Te Awa was allowed to go ahead when it's below high tide.

Questions are being asked about development in a Napier suburb after 8000 of its residents had to be evacuated during Cyclone Gabrielle.

A landscape architect is asking why the recent development of a subdivision within Te Awa was allowed to go ahead when it’s below high tide.

In the tidy Te Awa suburb it’s only the piles of torn-up carpet and the odd yellow sticker that betray the scenes of two weeks ago.

Thigh-deep water in the street prompted the evacuation of 8000 people. But knock on doors and this is what people are still dealing with.

“We got evacuated at 4:30 and apparently water came through at 8:30 that night,” said Te Awa resident Bruce Lewis.

Lewis downplays the damage to his home – conscious of what others in the region have gone through.

“I guess like a lot of us Kiwis you get on with it but yeah, when you see pools in your house, your lovely home but never mind,” he said.

The kitchen table shows how high the water got – not high, but enough to require all the lower gib to be ripped out as well as the carpet.

“We were fortunate to have two-thirds of house polished concrete – wise – so that was a bonus,’ he added.

On one side is the ocean and the Napier foreshore and then there is the Te Awa subdivision – located below high tide.

A landscape architect Newshub spoke to said he would never buy in this subdivision, and that Napier needs to be looking across the region for more suitable places to develop to solve its housing shortage.

Shannon Bray said the replacement to the Resource Management Act – currently before select committee – is a chance to rethink the way we build to work with nature and not against it.

“Let’s design for ourselves to say, ok if we are going to have cyclones, if we are going to have increased rivers, what can we do about that? And how can we do that personally or how can we do that as a community?”

Napier City Council declined to respond to Newshub’s questions over why the 2018 Te Awa development was allowed, saying it’s focused on recovery.

“We have to look at the planning issues, as to how we better plan for hazards so that we avoid putting houses in the most hazardous places,” said Environment Minister David Parker.

“You’ve got to think that we’ve been allowed to build in certain areas throughout the country, have those decisions been the right ones?” Lewis added.

An insurance broker, Lewis is well aware of the impact of increased severe weather events on premiums and insurers’ ability to assess risk. But he has no plans to up sticks.

“Climate change thing has made me sit up, take notice for sure,” he said.

“There’s a real strong connection between people and place, the places they live, the places they’ve grown up the places they remember. so we have to respect that, and work with that, and say how do we allow you to stay here,” Bray added.

Experts say managed retreat of communities in exposed places will be “the challenge of our generation”.

Te Awa is just one example of why.

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