From our Chair: Surprise over Government decision not to fund flood prevention plan

Chair Peter Scott shares his opinion on the Government's decision around a flood prevention plan.

Peter Scott, Chair, Environment Canterbury

Peter Scott, Chair, Environment Canterbury

I am feeling deflated and disappointed by the lack of Government foresight and investment in flood protection for our region.

As the regional council in New Zealand's largest region, it feels like we are being neglected when it comes to the future-proofing of the region. I know others feel the same.

That's not to say support isn't needed for areas badly impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle - we received considerable support during the earthquake recovery, so we know the response up north is critical - however, to not invest in the protection of other at-risk areas in Waitaha is short-sighted.

Flooding is the number one natural disaster in New Zealand and, with the impacts of climate change becoming more significant and frequent, we are at risk here in Canterbury.

Along with other regional councils, we made a joint submission to the Government asking for co-investment in a major flood protection programme.

Our proposal was for central and local governments to co-invest $257 million over the next three years, to fund 92 urgent flood protection projects across Aotearoa.

We have been asking central Government to co-invest with us in flood prevention measures and river management since 1989, however, it has been ratepayers across the country footing the bill.

The recent devastation of Cyclone Gabrielle could happen anywhere in the South Island, and we shouldn’t wait for that to happen before taking action. Prevention is still better than a cure.

We thought we had a strong case for funding in the 2023 Budget, especially given what's at risk if there is significant flooding along our 78,000 kilometres of river systems. That includes national assets such as Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency roads, KiwiRail bridges that run near rivers, power, and internet infrastructure - which would all be impacted, and disrupt our supply chains in the event of another major flood event.

And that doesn't factor in our ongoing ability to live in some areas, or people's ability to get insurance or how events might impact on premiums - a sad reality that some families in the badly affected areas of the North Island are grappling with.

I am hoping that this decision by the Government isn't final. I will be working over the coming days and weeks with my regional colleagues around the country to make sure our concerns are heard in Wellington.