18 March 2021

Joint Statement: Toi Moana Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Whakatāne District Council

Whakatāne District Council and Bay of Plenty Regional Council plan changes to address the unacceptably high debris flow loss-of-life risk on the Awatarariki Fanhead in Matatā will come into effect later this month.

The plan changes to Whakatāne District Council’s District Plan and Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s Regional Natural Resources Plan will become operative on 29 March 2021. The changes will prevent residential activities from continuing on, and prevent future residential development of, the high risk hazard area on the Awatarariki Fanhead. 

A joint consultation process was carried out prior to the notification of the proposed plan changes in 2018. Eight submissions and several further submissions on each plan change were received. Submissions were heard at a public hearing in March 2020 and the hearing panel of independent commissioners released its decision in April 2020, concluding that the two proposed plan changes were appropriate. An Environment Court appeal was lodged by some of the residents against the commissioners’ decision. Extensive discussions and negotiations between the Councils and the residents led to agreement to settle the appeal.  The agreed changes were presented to the Environment Court in December 2020 and the Court decision endorsing those changes was released shortly after.

Alongside the plan change process, Whakatāne District Council carried out a managed retreat programme for the high risk hazard area. Central government, Whakatāne District Council and Bay of Plenty Regional Council co-funded the managed retreat that has enabled at-risk property owners to sell their properties at a baseline market value without any discount for the known debris flow risk or the plan changes, and relocate to a safer environment.

Mayor Judy Turner says the process has been significantly challenging for many of the families and property owners involved and the weight of that has not been lost on her, nor the staff involved.

“It has been a long and difficult process for property owners in particular,” she says “Our organisations have worked together to provide affected property owners with opportunities to find a way forward and move away from a life-threatening situation that cannot be viably mitigated.”

Chair of Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s Strategy and Policy Committee, Paula Thompson, also recognised the plan change process and the toll it had taken on the community.

“This set of plan changes that become operative at the end of the month, are about ensuring people are not living in areas at high risk of debris flow.

“It is an unusual set of circumstances on the fanhead. This is about saving lives and wider public safety and I acknowledge that it has been very difficult for those people whose properties and lives have been affected.

“As noted by the commissioners last year, both councils are bound by legislation to act on behalf of the wider community to reduce risk to life from another debris flow. And in order for councils to do that, families have had to make some very difficult decisions and this process has affected many lives,” Ms Thompson said.