Newsroom Special Inquiry

Drowning dreams: 72 new houses on man-made canals

One of three recent coastal developments in the Coromandel Peninsula studied by Newsroom, an extension to Whitianga Waterways to add 72 new titles is raising concerns 

Whitianga Waterways is a newish subdivision on a series of man-made canals directly connected to Whitianga harbour. Residents have boat ramps attached to their lawns, making the proximity to water one of the main attractions.

Earlier this year, the subdivision’s developer applied to the district council to add 72 new sections to the development, which has been happening in stages. Tonkin and Taylor, the engineering firm, had previously modelled the flood risk for the canals in 1998, including 0.49m of sea level rise.

Again, Thames lawyer Denis Tegg was concerned about flooding.

So was his friend Thomas Everth, who emailed the council attaching photos of a king tide creeping up the lawns of the existing canal-side houses. Photos Everth captured on June 24 show that a tide forecast as 2.2m, combined with a low pressure system, inundated the canal banks and partially flooded lawns (though not the houses).

Tegg emailed the council asking about the flood risk. After he did, a consultant who was processing the application sent the council this email: “I hadn’t addressed or mentioned coastal inundation in my previous meetings …with [the developer] as I assumed that because this was Stage 10 [of the development] that coastal inundation had been addressed adequately in the previous stages and in the existing canal consent…”

“It wasn’t until I went to reply to the public enquiry we received that I read through the canal consent and other subdivisions and realised they didn’t mention coastal inundation and I thought we might have an issue here so started talking to you about it,” says the email, released by the council to Newsroom.

The district council insists that it had always planned to consider the flood risk, and that it wouldn’t have approved the subdivision without a flooding report. “Staff made it quite clear to the processing officer that this information would be required,” says a spokeswoman.

Images from Waikato Regional Council's coastal inundation tool showing flooding after a 1/100-year flood.

After this email exchange, the developer, Hopper Developments, hired Tonkin and Taylor to prepare an updated flood report.

Leigh Hopper, Hopper Development’s managing director, told Newsroom that Tonkin and Taylor were commissioned “as a matter of course” to review their earlier report and update sea level projections based on the IPCC’s findings.

The updated report concluded that the flood risk remained minimal, since the ground elevation of the proposed new canal-front properties was 45cm above the highest expected flooding. The report incorporated a little over 1m sea level rise, referencing the 2008 Ministry for the Environment guidance and the IPCC.

The district council accepted the findings. “Tonkin and Taylor are experts within this field and the council considered reliance upon their conclusions … to be more than satisfactory to approve the subdivision,” it told Newsroom.

Asked about its sea level planning, Hopper Developments sent Newsroom an email pointing to an engineering design feature of the project’s canal walls, which “allow for overflow on certain spring tides”.

“Interestingly some of our walls at Pauanui [the first of Hopper Development’s two coastal canal projects] were constructed 25 years ago and anecdotal evidence would suggest that the sea level rise (if any) is closer to the 1.6mm pa rate rather than the rates many are citing in the media at present.”

Gloria Humphries recently wrote a letter to the editor of the Hauraki Herald, published on November 17, in which she put forward a case against sea level rise. “I’m just a lay person without the appropriate background to challenge the so called experts, but I consider myself to be widely read on all points of view, and have come to the conclusion that ‘man-made’ global warming is the biggest con that has been foisted on mankind in modern times for reasons that have very little to do with our climate …” she wrote.

A tide forecast as 2.2m, combined with a low pressure system, inundated the canal banks and partially flooded lawns. Photo: Thomas Everth

“Coastal residents don’t despair and do some research for yourself.”

A companies office search shows Gloria Humphries is a shareholder in Hopper Developments.

Contacted by Newsroom, Humphries said she believed those raising concerns about sea level rise had other agendas.

“If you’ve got a beautiful multi-million-dollar waterfront home, the chances of the sea inundating that? Yes, a tsunami … but that’s nature. You can’t control nature.”

She believed there could be a “tiny” rise in sea levels because the land was rising out of the ocean, but it wouldn’t be significant enough to have any impact on the Whitianga Waterways sections.

“We’ll all be well dead and our kids and their kids will all be gone before you see any difference, so why are you worrying and upsetting people now?”

News coverage of climate change issues was largely “fake news”, she said.

See here to try out Waikato Regional Council's inundation tool. 

Read more: Billions at stake as govt mulls sea level rules

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