Two Northland councils are proposing spending millions of ratepayer dollars on Whangārei's Oruku Landing conference and events centre – in spite of tsunami risk and sea-level rises threatening its Town Basin site.
The two councils would put $63 million into the $123 million conference centre and supporting infrastructure - Whangārei District Council (WDC) $57 million and Northland Regional Council (NRC) $6 million. The Government has earmarked another $60 million for the conference centre.
The local and central government approach has angered a former WDC councillor.
"Oruku seems to be a manifestation of the lack of consideration of the impacts of climate change by the Government, Whangārei District Council and Northland Regional Council," former WDC councillor Robin Lieffering said.
More than 1,000 public submissions on the proposal have already flooded in to WDC. A month's public consultation ends on November 18 – for what would be Whangārei's biggest council infrastructure project.
Rates toward the WDC-owned centre would also be for roading, wastewater and path upgrades, a boardwalk, seawall, plaza and ferry terminal. A controversial new $20 million footbridge across the Hātea River as part of this is part of Government funding specifically tagged to this feature.
The centre is part of Northland Development Corporation (NDC)'s proposed private $250 million Oruku Landing development.
The waterside development site on Riverside Drive is in a tsunami evacuation zone and flood zone. Its exposure to climate change-induced sea-level rise has been highlighted as part of key risk facing the district's coastline in WDC's just-released growth strategy. This identifies Whangārei city centre as one of two areas in the district most at risk from sea-level rise.
Sea-level rise of 75 centimetres by 2100 would impact communities along the district's 270-kilometre coastline, the strategy said.
"It is essential that climate change projections are kept in mind when planning investment into new and replacing existing assets."
NDC owner-director Barry Trass was unaware that the Riverside Dr site was in a tsunami evacuation zone, when contacted by the Northern Advocate/Local Democracy Reporting.
"You can't just stop development and wait for a tsunami," Trass said, when asked what that information meant for the development.
He said sea-level rise consideration had been designed into the development's hotel and apartments but was unsure what figures had been used.
The Government has already put in several million dollars towards the centre.
Its Crown Infrastructure Partners (CIP) entity was asked how the Government could justify its spend into the development in light of its own growing climate change impact concerns for New Zealand.
"Whangārei District Council is the project owner and will be considering these matters during design if the project is approved," a CIP spokeswoman said.
"CIP/the Government would expect the project owner to consider these matters in its design."
WDC must decide on November 26 whether to proceed with the development, in time to meet the Government funding's November 30 uptake deadline. It has previously withdrawn its centre development participation but is now revisiting it.
NRC chief executive Malcolm Nicolson did not respond when asked how the regional council's participation could be justified, given climate change sea level rise concerns for the site, and formally identified risks from tsunami and flooding.
WDC chief executive Rob Forlong said sea-level rise considerations would be taken into account if the project went ahead.
The council would ensure all matters relating to climate change, sea-level rise, District Plan and the Building act were fully compliant, Forlong said.
But he said his council wanted to hear people's opinions first, before WDC made up its mind on whether or not it was proceeding.
"Final decisions will be made after all submissions and feedback have been considered," Forlong said.
"...Whangārei District Council is asking the public whether or not it should invest in this proposal because it has arisen following an approach to CIP by private business seeking to build an accommodation, retail and hotel development in this area," Forlong said.
"The council has been asked to support this development by taking over the building of the multi-events centre and ferry terminal, bridge and other assets and to cover its ongoing costs."
He said WDC had asked for other sites to be considered.
"Council did ask for alternative sites to be considered but the Government was clear that its funding attaches only to this proposal on this site," Forlong said.
Whangārei residents are facing a six per cent WDC rates rise next year and then years of extra costs if the council says yes to the development.
The first of three WDC public meetings about the proposal is at Whangārei Recreation Centre on November 8 from 7pm to 9pm. Next is Forum North's Exhibition Hall on November 9, from 6.30pm to 8.30pm and Hikurangi War Memorial Hall on November 11, from 6.30pm to 8.30pm, subject to Covid alert levels. Attendance registration is required for these meetings for Covid-19 risk management and places are filling fast.
Public submissions can be made online at wdc.govt.nz/Whats-new/Have-your-say/Oruku-Landing-2021