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Natural hazards mapped 35 years ago, but mostly ignored

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

Residents of this century may not know or may not remember that over 30 years ago the Ministry of Works and Development's Water and Soil Division began extensive natural hazard mapping throughout New Zealand. Geological hazards (land slip, erosion, unstable areas), river flooding hazards, coastal erosion and coastal flooding hazards were mapped for many Council areas across New Zealand.

Although the 1991 Resource Management Act (RMA) contained the necessary policy and legal powers to avoid development in sensitive areas, very little of this information ended up in Regional or District Plans. Despite being scientifically sound, hazard maps in Council plans were firmly opposed by land developers and even some Councils, for obvious reasons.

Some maps made it through the Environment Court and were used to fulfil Councils' "duty of care" not to permit land development in unsafe locations. Scientists and engineers working for local and central government did what they could to future-proof hazard-prone areas, but the coverage was, on the whole, very small. At one time it was even illegal to address the possible impacts of Climate Change under the RMA.

History repeats itself as is well known, and unfortunately society has a short memory when it comes to most people's primary asset - their home. Now with Climate Change upon us with real and devastating force, one hopes that the lessons of history will be learnt and those 35-year-old maps consulted again.

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