$1.5 billion urgently needed to protect New Zealanders from floods – investment support from government falling woefully short
6 April 2022
Te Uru Kahika is urging central government to prioritise sustained co-investment in flood protection across New Zealand.
The message is clear – one-off, competitive, and after-the-fact recovery funding from Central Government is not a sustainable solution to give New Zealanders the flood protection they deserve.
Te Uru Kahika have just released a report along with an urgent message for Central Government: New Zealander’s lives and livelihoods are in very real danger from increasingly severe and frequent flood risks arising from climate change. The consequences of failing to provide supporting investment to fund critical flood protection across New Zealand are unthinkable. Significant co-investment from Central Government simply cannot be put off any longer. The time to act is right now.
Released on 6 April 2022, the Central Government Co-investment in Flood Protection Schemes Supplementary Report is the second call from Te Uru Kahika for national leadership and urgent action to meet the flood hazard risks arising from climate change. It strengthens the findings of an earlier report in 2019, which revealed that the combined $200m of regional and unitary council investment in flood protection schemes each year was falling short of what is required to meet flood protection needs by $150m per annum. Over the ten years considered, that would be $1.5b of under-investment in critical flood protection schemes.
Michael McCartney, Convenor of the Regional Council Chief Executive Officers Group, says it’s been nearly three years since the original report highlighted these alarming findings to central government.
“Since our 2019 report, there have been ten more significant flood events around New Zealand, not to mention the substantial number of close calls where flood protection infrastructure has been pushed to within mere millimetres of its capacity. Any flood is a significant flood to the people that it affects,” says Mr McCartney.
“Despite all of this, the closest that Regional Councils have got to committed investment from central government – aside from after-the-fact recovery funding when flooding has already caused devastation - has been a three-year Covid-19 recovery fund for some “shovel-ready” projects that were already planned or underway, and a request for a Business Case for the West Coast, which has been hit not once, but twice, by significant flooding in just seven months.
“These are important initiatives, but they have been reactive and ad-hoc investment opportunities rather than a sustained co-investment commitment that addresses the critical flood protection needs of today and the immediate future.”
While funded locally, flood protection schemes don’t only protect local assets. The total estimated national annual benefit of current flood protection schemes highlighted in a report by Tonkin + Taylor in 2018, is a phenomenal $11b each year. This includes protection for crown assets owned by central government such as roads and railways, and other central government-supported projects and assets such as community centres and marae. In small towns like Blenheim, Westport and Ashburton, protected crown assets have a value of close to $1b. The Crown makes no rates contribution to the protection of these assets from flooding.
Chair of Local Government New Zealand's Regional Sector Group and Bay of Plenty Regional Council Chair Doug Leeder says that that climate change is a nationally significant issue, but the sector is not being supported by an adequate national response.
“The time for reporting and talking has passed. It’s time for action. Since 2019, Regional Councils and Unitary Authorities have committed to increasing annual regional funding for flood protection by a further combined $25m. Our communities have shown their support for increased flood protection through our collective Long-Term Plans. They are the ones that bear the brunt of the consequences,” says Mr Leeder.
“Since 1989, Regional Councils have proven their ability to deliver flood protection projects. We know what needs to be done. With the escalation of extreme weather events, we now need central government to step up and meet this challenge, shoulder-to-shoulder with our regions. Our ratepayers cannot be asked to burden the bill for critical flood protection in response to climate change.
“Not only is significant co-investment funding needed now, but this must also be a clearly allocated line item in budgets to come, beginning with Budget 2023.”
“Not only have our screens continued to fill with images of flood devastation in the last few years, but the report has also found that insurers are coming dangerously close, and in some cases have already, withdrawn insurance cover for some areas around New Zealand due to flood risk.
“Flooding is the number one naturally occurring hazard in Aotearoa. Regional and unitary councils will continue to advocate to central government for co-investment solutions which deliver to the needs of communities now and into the future.
“Central government is aware of the increasing flood hazard challenges across New Zealand and yet we are still being told that we have to compete for funding, and worse, that we are not at the top of the list for such funding, either. While government’s current focus on emissions is an extremely important piece of the puzzle that needs to be addressed, this can’t be at the sake of critical flood protection. It must be an and/and approach.
“Secure housing and safety is a significant physical and mental wellbeing issue. This cannot wait a moment longer. Central government needs to better support councils through adequate co-investment to be the fence at the top of the cliff, not the ambulance at the bottom.
“The time for central government to commit to a robust, long term, co-investment approach for flood risk reduction and protection is right now.”