12 Dec 2017

Council tells homeowners to protect themselves from ocean

From Checkpoint, 6:24 pm on 12 December 2017

Residents of Onaero say the New Plymouth council's refusal to complete a rockwall at the North Taranaki beach settlement is leaving them at the mercy of the ocean.

Resource consents are in place but the council says it has no plans to finish the wall and has instead warned that the residents need to consider how best to protect their own assets.

The council-approved subdivision at Onaero, about 15 kilometres east of Waitara, was one of the first in the country to include a buffer for erosion.

In the 1970s it was considered it had a 100-year lifespan - advice still given to home buyers as little as seven years ago.

Instead residents are watching the Papa cliffs crumble around them at an alarming rate.

In 2015, the council spent $150,000 on emergency repairs at Onaero, but it has balked at the $1.8 million price tag for a rockwall.

Now the Onaero Foreshore Protection Society wants $650,000 included in the district plan for a scaled back version.

Society chairman Frank Kerslake said any further delay would put homes at risk.

"Some of the houses now are getting to the stage where they are at risk of being undermined so it's critical to get it done or else we are going to have houses hanging over the side of the cliffs.

"People won't be able to use them. They won't be able to insure them. It's going to affect all of us. It's not going to only affect those properties, it's going to affect the whole community." 

An engineer, Mr Kerslake proposed using boulders to protect the toe of the cliffs to help stabilise them.

"It works 100 percent. Around the corner the ground is even worse and softer, and the road that's in front of it has been well and truly protected.

"It would have been long gone and the houses if the rock walls hadn't been there." 

Mr Kerslake said the cliffs were also a safety issue for those playing underneath them.

While that concerns Frank Bunker, he had more immediate worries for his retirement dream.

"Properties are going to devalue and in time and if it keeps going like it is you don't know whether you are going to be able to live here.

"It's not a good feeling you know. We bought the place thinking we'd have at least 100 years sort of." 

An example of the erosion that is worrying residents.

An example of the erosion that is worrying residents. Photo: Robin Martin / RNZ

Bryce Tonks has owned the Seaview Motel for 16 years.

He said people were already finding it difficult to sell properties and the council could do more.

"We're not asking for much in protection when you look at the 11 kilometres of rock wall that the council has around New Plymouth that's maintained by council and ratepayers' funds.

"All we're asking for is under 600m of wall to be completed along the beach here."

Mr Tonks said the future looked bleak.

"The bottom line is that the subdivision on the top of the cliff was guaranteed for 100 years when it was developed and the reports all show it's only going to last 40 years before the sea is lapping at their doorsteps."

Owner of the Seaview Motel, Bryce Tonks, says New Plymouth has 11 kilometres of rock wall while Onaero wants just 600 metres.

Owner of the Seaview Motel, Bryce Tonks, says New Plymouth has 11 kilometres of rock wall while Onaero wants just 600 metres. Photo: Robin Martin / RNZ

The New Plymouth Council declined an interview.

In a statement, it said although it had assisted with erosion protection in the past it was not committed to doing so in the future.

It said its policy was to only protect significant public assets.

Onaero, it said, was in a dynamic coastal environment that was currently subject to a sustained period of erosion which the Draft District Plan would further highlight. 

Ultimately, residents needed to consider how to best protect their assets, it said.

But back at his Sutton Road property, that was cold comfort to Mr Kerslake who said in the past the Onaero Reserve had been considered a significant asset.

"Well, we can't protect our own property. We've got a council reserve in front of us. We can't dump rocks on the council reserve.

"The resource consent is in the council's name so we can't just go willy-nilly and dump rocks on the beach. Really it is up to the council to action it."

Mr Kerslake expected the new draft district plan would include an erosion hazard line that passed through residents' properties.

The draft plan was due to go out for public consultation early next year.