16 Oct 2015

Lower Hutt flood barrier a step closer after council vote

10:19 am on 16 October 2015

A new stopbank for Lower Hutt, which involves bulldozing homes and businesses, could save more than $1 billion in flood damage repair, Wellington Regional Council says.

Nearly 80 riverside homes and businesses in Lower Hutt will be bought by the regional council to make room for the multi-million dollar stopbank which is to protect against flooding associated with climate change.

lower hutt flood protection

Photo: Wikicommons

A panel of local and regional councillors voted yesterday to recommend fast-tracking flood protection, starting within five years, instead of a staged approach, which could have pushed completion out to 2045 or even later.

Yesterday's hearing was meant to give certainty to the hundreds of affected residents and workers who have been waiting two years to learn their fate.

After hearing nearly 30 public submissions over the day, the mayor of Hutt City, Ray Wallace, urged the panel to spend a couple more weeks considering the matter for the sake of the 79 property owners.

His call to put off the vote was backed by Hutt City councillor Chris Milne and deputy mayor David Bassett, who warned a rushed decision could create injustices.

However Upper Hutt regional councillor Paul Swain pointed out that 74 percent of public feedback was in support of getting on with the job.

"It seems to me that's a fairly clear message - I can't remember what submission it was, but someone said 'Stop the talking and start the digging."

Wainuiomata councillor Ken Laban said he estimated the businesses that would be affected employed about 400 people, so they too needed certainty about their future.

Councillor Milne abstained in the vote, but wanted his reservations about the $143 million project on record, as he said the actual impact of climate change was not yet certain.

After the meeting, Mr Wallace said the right decision had been made.

Ray Wallace.

Ray Wallace. Photo: RNZ / Eru Rerekura

Without the beefed-up stopbank, the city was under threat of devastating flooding, which could cause more than a billion dollars of damage, he said.

He said council officials had reassured him affected residents would be treated fairly.

"There were concerns from residents that they might have to sell their properties for fire sale type prices but under the Public Works Act that's not the case. There's a very firm strict process to go through. The officers have assured me that that will happen."

A carpark next to the Hutt River.

Lower Hutt during flooding this May. Photo: Tim Glasgow

Council flood protection manager Graeme Campbell said the estimate of a $1 billion in potential property damage did not take into account the cost of disruption to families and businesses.

"People would be out of their homes for months and months if not years before you could recover. You don't reconstruct 2500 or 3000 homes within a few months. Christchurch [post earthquakes] is a good example of that."

Some Pharazyn Street residents were relieved a decision had been made but were keen to know how market value would be decided.

Others were too upset to talk.

One elderly woman, who has lived in the same house nearly 60 years, said she felt "bulldozed" by the council.

"I don't know where I'll go... I suppose it might be time for a resthome."

Another neighbour said she blamed the massive new housing developments upriver in recent years for increasing the Hutt's vulnerability to flooding.

"All that roof run-off has got to go somewhere, hasn't it?

"Why should we be punished for it? This house was built in 1896... We've got to move. It's not like we can chain ourselves to the house. Obviously we're devastated."

The panel's recommendation goes to the Hutt Valley Flood Management Subcommittee next month, which will make its recommendation to the regional council in December to allow council officers to start work on the details.