Council agrees to buyout for slip-damaged Tauranga homes: ‘Intolerable risk to life’

8:55 pm on 25 March 2024
One of the Maungatapu homes was shunted into the street by the landslide in January last year. Photo: John Borren/SunLive.

Photo: John Borren/SunLive

Slip-affected homeowners in a Tauranga suburb are closer to a solution after council agreed to fund a buyout in conjunction with the government.

Extreme rainfall caused slips in Maungatapu on 28 January 2023, pushing one home off its foundation into the street.

The two large landslips on the Taipari Reserve, between Te Mutu Crescent and Egret Avenue, affected 21 properties.

At a meeting on Monday, Tauranga City Council agreed to a buyout of the worst affected properties.

It could also help fund remediation projects for properties where the risk to life could be mitigated.

Debris behind one of the homes after the slip. Photo: SunLive.

Photo: SunLive

Eleven properties above and below the slip were categorised as there being an ongoing risk to life and property through an assessment from engineering consultants Tonkin and Taylor.

Of these, seven had a risk to life that was high, two were medium risk and two were deemed low risk to life.

Council strategic property team leader Phil Kai Fong said some of the properties were significantly impacted and faced an "intolerable risk to life" from future weather events.

Those properties were classified category 3 and were not safe to live in. Category 3 homes would be subject to a voluntary buyout.

"It is a voluntary buyout basis. Council did not necessarily have to participate in this," said Kai Fong.

"Similarly, the residents aren't obliged to accept our offers."

Category 2 properties meant there was some risk to life, but it could be mitigated through interventions. These properties could receive funding for the interventions.

"Those residents have not been as impacted as much as others, and to that degree where we can reduce that risk down. So either through community level interventions or property level interventions," said Kai Fong.

Commission chair Anne Tolley says today was hopefully the “beginning of the end” for affected homeowners. Photo: Alisha Evans/ SunLive.

Photo: Alisha Evans/ SunLive

How each of the properties were categorised was done in a public-excluded session to maintain the privacy of affected owners.

Council would then speak to them individually to discuss next steps.

The categorisations were preliminary and could change based on technical assessments, said Kai Fong.

The government would fund 50 percent of the buyout after any insurance or Earthquake Commission payments were made through the Future of Severely Affected Locations programme (FOSAL).

The rest would come from the council as a one-off through the Stormwater Reactive Reserve Fund.

Former Prime Minister Chris Hipkins visited the slip site last year and said it was “one of the most horrific and traumatic things” he’d seen. Photo: SunLive.

Photo: SunLive

Kai Fong said the underlying principle of FOSAL was to help the community move on faster from the effects of the storm.

FOSAL was a funding arrangement with councils set up by the government in response to damage from the Auckland Anniversary Weekend floods and Cyclones Hale and Gabrielle.

"This has been an extraordinarily complex issue to work through as central government concentrated recovery efforts in the first instance on the three most heavily affected areas of Auckland, Hawke's Bay and Tairāwhiti," said Kai Fong.

"We appreciate the impact of that event from 2023 and the incredibly difficult time that it has been for affected residents.

"Getting to this point has taken longer than any of us may have expected or would've wanted ideally."

Commission chair Anne Tolley said the residents had borne the "rather long and convoluted process" the council had been through.

She acknowledged the devastation to the lives of the affected homeowners.

"It's unimaginable that its 14 months now, since that happened. Hopefully today we start the beginning of the end of it, for them [the property owners].

"It is a very slow process to work through, but we're delighted that we've been able to take part in the FOSAL system."

Tolley said the buyouts were an exception to council's policy and were a "one-off".

Initially the council said it would not be responsible for the repair of the slips that affected private property.

The details of the financial assessments and the preliminary land categorisation would remain confidential indefinitely, said Tolley.

The council would now advise property owners of their categorisation, enter negotiations with category 3 properties and negotiate with the government over funding.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air