Media release

Report on reducing natural hazard risk receives prestigious award

17 May 2020

A ground-breaking report focused on reducing natural hazard and climate change risk under the Resource Management Act has been awarded the New Zealand Planning Institute’s John Mawson Award of Merit for 2020.

The GNS Science report Reducing risk through the management of existing uses: tensions under the RMA by Emily Grace, Ben France-Hudson and Margaret Kilvington was primarily funded by the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges National Science Challenge.

The report looks at tools provided by the RMA that can be used to enable the movement of communities from at-risk areas, before the risk becomes severe or intolerable.

“This is a difficult issue, because addressing risk to established communities means addressing people’s existing use ‘rights’,” says Ms Grace.

In general, the RMA protects people’s existing uses of land against changes in district planning rules.

The authors say the protection of existing uses is so entrenched in planning practice that modifications, even to reduce risk to lives and property, face significant challenges. A recent example is Matatā in the Bay of Plenty, where there has been a protracted but ultimately successful effort by Whakatāne District Council to manage retreat from the Awatairariki fanhead, the location of a devastating debris flow in 2005.

“We need to address these issues because rising sea levels, increasing extreme weather events and growing knowledge of natural hazards mean communities face futures that were unforeseen when they were established.”

The research concluded that, despite clear challenges, much can be done under the RMA to proactively manage existing uses to reduce risk.

“Our research found that the possibilities under the RMA were not well understood, and better insight would give local authorities more options for reducing risk to existing communities.”

The research report makes a number of recommendations for improvements in practice, and to the RMA itself, for better enabling local authorities to reduce risk to existing communities. It highlights the importance of regions and districts working together given that they hold different powers under the RMA regarding risk management and land use.

The report also recommends legislative changes to address the question of compensation. “This is timely because of the current RMA review, which has a focus on responding to climate change,” says Ms Grace.

The John Mawson Award of Merit is made in recognition of a meritorious individual or one-off contribution to the theory or practice of planning.

“It was our aim to offer practical solutions for local government planners, so we’re delighted that the report has been well-received and is deemed to have made a useful contribution to planning practice in New Zealand,” says Ms Grace.

The report can be found here.

Additional information:

  • John Mawson was Director of Town Planning in 1928. With few resources he advocated with local authorities to take up their town planning responsibilities and promoted the concept of regional planning. He was one of the founders of what is now the New Zealand Planning Institute, and is considered one of town planning’s greatest advocates.
  • Resilience to Nature’s Challenges Kia manawaroa – Ngā Ākina o Te Ao Tūroa is one of 11 National Science Challenges funded by government, with a mission to accelerate Aotearoa New Zealand’s resilience to natural hazards.

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