Six months on from Auckland’s Anniversary weekend floods, Auckland councillors have decided that ensuring the region isn’t hit so badly in future requires a rethink of its fundamental planning documents.

The council is looking at changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan – the main document that decides what can be built and where – to increase the region’s disaster resilience.

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Richard Hills, North Shore councillor and chair of the planning, environment and parks committee, said future-proofing the city may require some unpopular changes as development options are potentially curtailed for properties in at-risk areas.

“There are going to be potential regulatory changes that aren’t going to be popular with everyone, but we have to do that,” he said. “Those conversations will be hard … and people who aren’t maybe affected this time will only thank us if they are affected at another time, but they might not thank us now.”

Avoiding past planning mistakes could require some big changes, he said, before pointing out that Auckland passed its average yearly rainfall earlier this month – a big change handed down from nature itself.

Council staff said they were investigating the impact of the floods and recommended tightening the unitary plan, speeding up community action on adaptation and Making Space for Water, a network of linear parks that could act as floodwater reservoirs.

Council documents show there is a “small window of time to effect change”.

Planning manager Phil Reid said the unitary plan needed to be “marrying zoning to a better way to the level of risk that we face” but said that approaches like awareness raising and incentives would need to be used alongside a regulatory approach.

Tweaking the unitary plan, however, could come in a variety of guises. Slight changes could affect just those with properties already red-stickered. A more extreme approach could prevent individuals from even being able to apply for a resource consent if their property is at enough risk.

“I’m not looking to recommend the broad-scale use of that kind of technique,” Reid said, saying it was used in unique situations at present such as moorings at Okahu Bay.

Mayor Wayne Brown worried that bringing the hammer down on cliffside properties and preventing them from getting the full value out of a sale could put the council at risk of litigation.

However, Reid said the rules dictate that statutory tests must be passed to use such zoning laws, which should provide some protection. He recommended downzoning to limit the intensity of use, rather than removing right of use.

“You seem to be aware of some of the downstream risks of attack which I’m pleased to hear,” Brown said, after saying he’d rather not open a legal can of worms.

Any changes to the unitary plan will take into account information that has come to light in the five years since it was adopted.

There’s updated mapping on coastal erosion risk, new Ministry for the Environment guidance on sea-level rise, and the council’s own reports. Staff are currently analysing a sample of resource consents granted under the plan for a report expected to be published this week.

Half a year on from the first of the severe weather events, Auckland Council is still pulling itself together.

Taryn Crewe, general manager of parks and community facilities, presented an update to the committee saying more than 1000 cases of storm damage had been identified across the region’s parks.

Just over half of these have been assessed at an estimated repair cost of $30.1 million.

That leaves 432 cases still to be looked into, but the council estimates the whole job will cost between $40m and $55m.

“Once the investigations are complete or substantially complete we’ll have a better idea of what those recovery costs look like,” Crewe said.

Other fresh numbers indicate the city is well on its way back to its pre-storm state, but Crewe cautioned that resourcing challenges and continuing wet weather were making it a bumpy journey.

“The past few months have been quite challenging, with the extreme events in January and February and then the other extreme event on the 9th of May, the recovery process of investigation has been quite challenging for staff,” she said. “It’s meant multiple clean-ups in some areas and its meant reinvestigation in some of the work that we’ve already taken.”

Forty-six of the playgrounds damaged in the storms have been repaired, while 2800 trees have been removed across the region, completing 85.9 percent of work requests.

Matthew Scott covers immigration, urban development and Auckland issues.

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