A pensioner who had to scale a brick wall to escape floodwaters tearing through council-owned elder housing has welcomed a proposal to demolish some of the damaged properties.
Colleen Nottingham lived in one of 11 council-owned elder housing units in Waihī Beach that had to be evacuated after flooding swept through the beachside community north of Tauranga on May 29.
The weather event forced the emergency evacuation of 27 people from their homes, including residents living in elder housing on Beach Rd.
The Western Bay of Plenty Council will this week decide whether to demolish seven of the damaged elder housing units after a report found they were “unsafe” for elderly to live in. The alternative was to repair the damaged units with the aim of tenanting them again.
The other four units were deemed less risky and have already been repaired and reoccupied.
Nottingham hoped the council would decide to demolish the remaining units.
Six months on from the event, she can still recall how rapidly the flood happened.
“It was so scary, water just rose so fast,” she told the Bay of Plenty Times.
The then 73-year-old scaled a brick wall seeking higher ground after noticing her bed was floating.
Nottingham said she lost all her belongings to the flooding.
Nottingham said the council had been “very good to us” but believed it should demolish the units “because it will happen again”.
Nottingham now lives in council housing in Te Puke, closer to her son, and said there was “no way” she would ever return to the Waihī Beach units even if they were refurbished.
“I’d never move back there again. Every time it rained, I’d be scared. It was very traumatic but I’m lucky to have my son [from Pāpāmoā] who was absolutely marvellous. He stepped in, arranged insurance and everything and shifted me here.”
The evacuated tenants, including Nottingham, were initially housed in private accommodation and their remaining belongings stored. In July the council said the extra rental cost came to $2706 per fortnight for nine people and was covered by insurance.
A Tonkin and Taylor report commissioned by the council found seven elder housing properties were “unsafe for elderly, children and vehicles”. Some areas of the wider property were also considered unsafe for all people and vehicles.
The four units already repaired and reoccupied were considered unsafe for small vehicles only.
In a separate report, council operations manager Kerrie Little said if the council chose to repair the remaining units and tenant them, “there would be considerable stress on the tenants living in the units regarding the likelihood of future flooding”.
“It could also create questions around the appropriateness of council placing tenants into housing that was prone to flooding.”
Little recommended the properties assessed as unsafe for elderly, children, and vehicles be demolished and not used for housing.
The loss of rental income was considered a disadvantage to this decision.
The Western Bay district was also in the grips of a housing crisis with an existing shortfall of 2500 homes.
About 37,000 to 43,000 new homes were needed in the wider Western Bay and Tauranga area over the next 30 years. About 7000 to 9000 new homes were needed within the Western Bay itself.
Costs to reinstate the buildings would be covered by insurance.
Little said there had been “some discussion” of whether Waihī Beach was the best place for elder housing, given the lack of services available.
The flood risk of the seven Beach Rd units also remained high, she said.
“Following an event like this, the residents and their community have experienced distress.”
The Waihī Beach Surf Lifesaving Club lost tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment damaged by the floods described at the time as the worst in one resident’s 30 years in the town.
A child at the local school spoke, at the time, of people “freaking out” and “crying”.
Little said, in her report, council staff worked with the tenants to manage it as much as possible, noting that external support had been offered.
Demolishing the units could make space for car parking for existing tenants who had to park on the road or elsewhere, she said.
The council was yet to hear from its insurers on the amount of the cash settlement regarding the seven units deemed too unsafe for future habitation. Further discussions on the financial implications were expected in the new year, Little said.
The matter will be discussed in a meeting on Thursday beginning at 9.30am at council chambers at Barkes Corner and is open to the public. It would also be livestreamed online.
Kiri Gillespie is an assistant news director and a senior journalist for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post, specialising in local politics and city issues. She was a finalist for the Voyager Media Awards Regional Journalist of the Year in 2021.