Forest & Bird is calling on Penny Simmonds and Simon Watts – the respective ministers for the environment and climate change – to take action and pass the National Policy Statement on Natural Hazard Decision Making (NPS-NHD) to help protect communities around the motu from future flooding.
The call comes a year after floods in Auckland, Hawke’s Bay, and Te Tai Rāwhiti devastated communities as rivers and streams spread across their historic floodplains, taking lives and livelihoods and marking the start of a year dominated by record-breaking extreme weather.
Forest & Bird says putting the NPS-NHD in place will give councils the legal framework they need to help keep communities safe and is calling for the policy to be introduced as soon as possible.
The NPS-NHD, which was proposed by the Ministry for the Environment last year, would direct how decision-makers consider natural hazards like flooding, earthquakes, and landslips in planning decisions relating to new development – providing councils with the tools to stop development in flood zones and other high-risk locations and reducing risk to life, community wellbeing, property, infrastructure and the economy.
Forest and Bird’s freshwater advocate, Tom Kay, says currently councils are limited in their powers to prevent development in unsuitable areas.
“Without the NPS-NHD, councils’ hands are tied, and they can’t stop encroachment into floodplains and riverbeds, including into areas that were severely impacted by the 2023 floods. They are continually trying to clean up the damage that’s caused – it's totally inefficient.”
Recently RNZ (Radio New Zealand) revealed Auckland Council is struggling to stop the building of houses and communities in harm’s way, with homes continuing to be consented in known flood plains and hazard zones.
“Auckland Council has adopted a strategy of ‘Making Space for Water’ but is still stuck allowing consents in flood zones. A policy like the NPS-NHD would support them to prevent this kind of unjustifiable development and keep people and property safe,” Mr Kay says.
Forest & Bird says the NPS-NHD could change the way we live with flood risks, while enabling environmental restoration.
“We’ve got an opportunity to reframe the way we live around rivers and floodplains and having this national policy statement in place would ensure we don’t put anyone else in harm’s way. It would allow communities to restore nature in flood zones – making room for rivers and re-establishing wetlands and forests,” Mr Kay says.
“These are nature-based solutions that reduce the impacts of extreme weather caused by climate change in a way that is evidence-based and matches world-leading projects overseas – and offers a range of other wellbeing benefits for people and wildlife.
“Before the election National published its “Blueprint for a Better Environment”, which highlighted the importance of nature-based solutions. Introducing this NPS would provide the Minister with a golden opportunity to deliver quickly on these commitments.”
The Ministry for Environment consulted on the proposed NPS-NHD from September to November 2023. It requires support from the new government to pass into effect and while Simon Watts said in a written statement, he "looked forward to receiving officials' analysis of submissions on the National Policy Statement on Natural Hazard Decision-making in the next few weeks", there is no commitment to progressing the policy.
Forest & Bird released Tukua Ngā Awa Kia Rere | Making Room for Rivers in November 2022, calling for a new approach to mitigating flood risks in Aotearoa. In 2023, Tom Kay toured the country, presenting the idea of ‘Making Room for Rivers’ to more than 1000 people across 48 different groups and 11 regional councils – and gained widespread acceptance and support along the way.
Forest & Bird’s submission on the proposed National Policy Statement for Natural Hazard Decision-Making is available here