An independent review panel has today released a report critical of the Rotorua Lakes Council and Bay of Plenty Regional Council in the lead up to the devastating floods in Rotorua in April this year.
The panel, commissioned by the two councils to make recommendations to reduce the impact of severe flood events in future, released its comprehensive 110-page report this morning.
The report, which has made 24 recommendations, said there were three main circumstances contributing to the flooding.
These included heavy rain that happened once every 100 years. The report said it would be expected that a flood of this magnitude would significantly test infrastructure designed to a 100-year return period standard.
However, the regional council was criticised for not extending the 100-year design standard for the Ngongotahā Stream, upstream of Ngongotahā Rd, to prevent flooding despite requests by the local council to do so.
The report said it was "unfortunate that a flood has had to occur to physically demonstrate the extent and consequences of the flood hazard to the Ngongotahā community and to instigate a response" from the regional and local councils to reduce flood risk.
The report said both councils had responsibilities for managing flood risk and either "could have proactively taken steps to reduce known flood risk".
The local council was criticised for its handling of the consent process in 2006 for the Pioneer Property Trust Subdivision in Ngongotahā, saying it failed to pick up design errors that contributed to the 22 properties in that subdivision being inundated with flood waters.
The panel found the regional council provided information to the local council in 2007 about the subdivision showing it was unlikely the overland flow path and stormwater infrastructure would perform to the required design standards and that the minimum floor levels wouldn't stop houses from being inundated in floods.
The report also raised two potential conflicts of interest (or at least perceptions of such) associated with the subdivision application. One being a local council engineering staff member involved with reviewing the construction of assets to be invested in the council through the subdivision process was the spouse of one of the MTEC engineers which designed the subdivision. The other was that a former sitting councillor was the applicant behind the subdivision.
However, the report found no evidence those potential conflicts of interest contributed to the flooding in April. It also noted the council practices in terms of conflicts of interests had improved in the past 12 years.
The report also highlighted there was no emergency management plan for Ngongotahā and recommended one be put in place urgently as it was "extremely fortunate that there was no loss of life from the flood".
It noted the actual emergency response in April, including provision of welfare, was outside the scope of the review.
However, it said putting in such a plan should be given the "highest priority" as it was something that could be put in place quickly.
In its conclusion, the panel said both councils had responsibilities when it came to floods. However, it said in terms of land use planning in urban areas, that was the role of the local council to mitigate flooding risks.
It recommended having a specific chapter in the Rotorua District Plan that dealt with natural hazards.
In a joint statement, the local and regional councils said they would work with the community to develop a joint action plan to reduce flood risk in the Ngongotahā area.
It said a reference group, which would include elected members, iwi and community representatives, would be established to advise on an agreed programme of work.
The panel's findings and recommendations and the work under way to establish a joint plan of action were reported to elected members from both councils yesterday.
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said it was important to learn what contributed to the April flood event to provide direction for work that could be done to minimise the impact of future weather events on the community.
"The flood review focused on Ngongotahā but the findings will help guide future planning and decision-making for the whole district.
"We're grateful for the work of the review panel and everyone who contributed. This was a tough time for many in our community – some are still not back in their homes – and we want to put things in place to try and reduce, as much as is possible, the impact of future extreme weather events.
"The April weather event had an impact across the district and we can now consider all the contributing factors and look at what needs to be done to reduce future risk and impact," Chadwick said.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council chairman Doug Leeder said in the statement the report would provide valuable insight for the two councils as they worked together.
"This was an extreme weather event and while nobody can guarantee protection against all possible natural hazard events, we want to work with the Rotorua council to ensure that together we do as much as possible to protect people and property from future events.
"The regional council has already undertaken a considerable amount of work in Rotorua waterways since the April event and we will continue to work with our district council counterparts and the Rotorua community."
Chadwick told the Rotorua Daily Post at a press conference this morning it was too soon to answer whether the current council would have given consent to the Pioneer subdivision.
"With resource consents in sensitive areas that is an issue that needs to be worked through when a new application comes forward and of course we will use the lessons learned."
Panel chairwoman Judith Stanway said at the press conference the report highlighted the decisions with Pioneer subdivision were made 12 years ago and "best practice and policies and processes" used by the council had since progressed.
Stanway said there were 24 recommendations in the report and they should all be looked at together.
When asked whether the two councils dropped the ball in terms of communicating with each over getting improvements to the Ngongotahā Stream, Chadwick said no but there was confusion over who did what.
"That's one of the recommendations in the report about getting some clarity with roles and responsibilities. What I really like where the report is going is the recommendation to collaborate."
Cost of the report:
The cost of the comprehensive independent panel review into the Rotorua floods is not yet known.
In response to Rotorua Daily Post questions, Chadwick and Leeder said they had not yet worked out how much the report had cost.
Chadwick said doing the review was the right thing to do.
"That's what I like about this fresh approach, get on and do the right thing for our communities. I'm not saying worry about the cost later but we knew there were costs involved to get the right report to give us the baseline information so we can make good decisions going forward."
What have the councils done to date?
* Installed a new rain gauge on Mt Ngongotahā to improve flood warning abilities.
* Modelling work on the stream catchment is under way.
* Other Rotorua streams are also being modelled for flood mitigation works.
* Bay of Plenty Regional Council has appointed a locally available engineer to work with residents.
* The two councils are working together to ensure consenting processes are well integrated and reflect target levels of protection.
* A draft action plan is under way.
* February/March 2019 - establish a project reference group.
* April/May 2019 – engage with the wider community on the proposed programme of work.
* June 2019 – options report re proposed work expected to be finalised.
* July 2019 onwards – progressive implementation of actions
* Chairwoman Judith Stanway, professional businesswoman and consultant
* Te Ururoa Flavell, consultant and former politician, iwi leader
* Rob van Voorthuysen, 31 years' experience in environmental, resource management and policy analysis
* Kyle Christensen, engineer with 18 years experience