Despite the so-called “Floodgate fiasco” of April 2012, Hamilton hasn’t yet been washed off the face of the Earth.
But Hamilton residents who have heard reassuring sounds from council staff and elected representatives shouldn’t sell their gumboots just yet. Staff are still working on the $471,000 project.
This information is revealed in the June 2012 issue of City News.
“Clearly there are many properties in Hamilton that will be affected by a one in 100 year storm event and preliminary feedback has confirmed many property owners understand this,” the council’s promotional publication says.
But the bad news comes in the next sentence: “Getting the risk balance right is the key issue.”
It’s hard to tell what the Hamilton City Council means by “the risk balance”. Is the publication referring to the risk of Hamilton flooding or the risk to the council’s credibility if the flood-modelling project fails to reassure residents?
Preliminary feedback on the council’s draft district plan closed on June 1, 2012.
“The flood-risk related consultation, which was part of the natural hazards section of the draft plan, has now been put on hold,” City News alleges.
But it wasn’t the flooding investigation work that has been put on hold. It was only the consultation process.
“The feedback council got from the community was extensive and very helpful to have before including anything in the plan for release for formal submissions,” City News continues.
“Council is now looking at how best to use the feedback received and the flood modelling data it has to put the right level of flood risk identification into the plan.”
So the council is still planning to put flood-risk information in the district plan.
“Council wishes to reassure residents it will keep them informed about next stages in the process and will come back to the community once further flood modelling refinement is undertaken.”
In other words, the flooding investigation work is continuing. This is despite the huge outpouring of anger from residents and ratepayers in April 2012.
Speaking about the “Floodgate fiasco”, Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker was reported in the Waikato Times on April 28, 2012, as saying: “I’m devastated this happened and feel for the people who are worried about the risk of flooding to their property or any possible effect on the value of their property. Sending a letter out of the blue like this was a mistake. It seems that nobody considered what effect such a letter would have on 28,000 people.”
But it’s hard to understand how anyone could have been unnecessarily alarmed by the letter that the council sent out to 28,000 property owners on April 20, 2012, signed by Paula Rolfe, project manager district plan review. It says:
“Hamilton City Council is currently undertaking a review of its district plan and is seeking your feedback.
“The district plan is essentially the rule book for development in Hamilton and sets planning rules and zoning regulations. One important area the council has been investigating is the risk to homes of flooding in a significant storm. Flood modelling work has been undertaken citywide for the first time and has given council a much greater ability to identify areas most susceptible to flooding.
“Three categories of risk have been identified.
“Your property is one of those affected. It means restrictions will apply to proposed development activity in some areas. The higher the level of risk, the greater those restrictions are likely to be.
“This month the council is holding four open days for you to learn more about the new classifications and what the flood modelling work means to you.
“You are invited to attend any of the open days at any time between 2pm and 7pm. Councillors and council staff will be on hand to answer your questions and we welcome your feedback.”
The letter then gave the dates and venues for the open days and also referred people to the council’s website.
Curiously, there was no mention in the letter of flood classifications being added to property owners’ LIM reports. It wasn’t until eight days after the letters were dated that the Waikato Times reported: “A storm of complaints has prompted the council to rethink plans to add flood classifications to the LIM (land information memorandum) reports of thousands of Hamilton properties it says are at risk.”
The newspaper later noted in a graphic that real estate agents had raised the issue of flood classifications being added to LIM reports. It’s not hard to surmise that this was the greatest concern for many ratepayers. Tagging a property as “flood prone” is a good way to devalue its worth. Who would want to buy a property when a LIM report notes the risk of it flooding?
Yet the flood-modelling work would be a boon for those Hamilton residents wanting to trade up to a better house. Property transactions are often the largest financial decisions that many New Zealanders make. It would take one uncertainty out of house buying if the prospective purchaser could see on a LIM report that their dream home wasn’t going to end up half a metre under water during the next torrential downpour.
That seems to be the reason why the Government requires councils to undertake flood-modelling work. Other councils completed these assessments many years ago, without too much drama. Hamilton, with New Zealand’s longest river bisecting the country’s fourth largest city, put off doing this work for reasons that haven’t been explained.
It’s a worry that the council has failed to point out the relationship between flooding and the stormwater system. When properties flood, it can be because the city’s stormwater drains haven’t been able to cope with a heavy downpour. Some flooding problems in Hamilton are the direct result of the council not doing its job properly.
The council has also failed to acknowledge a bureaucratic botch-up over who was sent letters. Some owners of cross-leased sections received letters when other holders of the same cross-lease weren’t. Under law, two owners of a cross-leased section jointly own half the total land area. Five owners of a cross-leased section jointly own one-fifth of the total property. Of the 28,000 property owners affected, some were sent letters for flooding on land where their neighbour’s house is sited when their own house is above the flood-risk area. An unknown number of property owners have been threatened with a flooding classification when the council’s own flooding maps show that their houses are safe. The council needs to apologise to those cross-leased landowners whose homes have no chance of being flooded.
Despite an effusive reassurance from Hamilton’s mayor, the “Floodgate fiasco” hasn’t gone away. Still waters run deep.
City News, June 2012.