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Planning land use to be resilient to natural hazards

By Anna Bensemann, Senior Planner | Jul 26, 2022

There is an increasing concern about climate change, greater reports of extreme weather events resulting in flooding, landslides, and coastal inundation and the potential effect on our urban and rural landscapes. The dreams of owning a house overlooking the beach, are in some instances, literally slipping away. In other cases, new information and flood modelling has identified greater risk as a result of where we have historically chosen to develop land.

District and regional plans govern what activities can occur, and where. In 2017 the government elevated the importance of managing risks from significant natural hazards within the legislation under the RMA, causing district and regional councils to relook at their planning provisions.

Natural hazards are generally managed by Councils identifying and mapping areas which are at risk from natural hazards. Typically, this has been flood hazards around rivers and coastal environments, however more recently this has included risks from earthquakes including liquification risk and erosion on some of our flat land areas.

Once mapped the councils have been addressing management through rules, objectives and policies that direct the levels of development, and nature of development that can be carried out in the mapped areas. Sometimes differing levels of risk are identified with differing levels of management offered in each area.

At the most extreme end, some councils have prohibited new dwellings, or new additions to dwellings within these hazard risk areas, or prohibited subdivision resulting in an expectation of additional dwellings. In extreme cases a process of managed retreat is being considered, particularly in coastal areas. This can completely dash the coastal home dream.

Other management techniques seek to limit the amount of damage potential to buildings and homes. This may be through appropriate foundation design to avoid liquefaction risk, or it may be elevated floor levels to avoid houses being flooded. Elevated floor levels are particularly useful in the Canterbury Plains, where flooding flows or ponds at lower levels than other areas. While allowing for the development of a dream home, these measures are likely to increase the costs of development.

Increased costs of materials and rising property prices mean these measures are often unpalatable. Nevertheless, in the unfortunate event of an extreme natural hazard event, you will be thanking Councils measures to protect your life and property. So, when looking for an ideal property for your next dream home, make sure you do your homework, investigate the natural hazard risks and design and build your home to be resilient to natural hazards. The district and regional planning framework is an ideal place to start before purchasing as part of due diligence.

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