27 May 2024

Council to buy out Nelson homes affected by slips from private land

10:06 pm on 27 May 2024
A hillside has collapsed into the back of someone's yard. A slip of loose earth wrapped in wire is slumped over a wooden fence. There is a neighbour's house and fence in the background. Above is a blue sky.

There were more than 200 slips in Nelson following the August 2022 floods. Photo: Sharon Brettkelly

Nelson City Council has agreed to buy out homes affected by slips from private land after the August 2022 storm.

During its long-term plan deliberations, elected members agreed to accept a $12.3m central government flood recovery package, with $6m earmarked to buy properties affected by the August 2022 weather event.

Councillors accepted the offer in principle last October, subject to consulting with the community on the buyout element as part of the long-term plan.

More than 850 people submitted on the issue, with 56 percent supporting the council's proposal to accept the government offer and buy the properties out.

It is understood there are 17 properties eligible for the buyout offer, which includes nine of the 10 properties already purchased by the council in The Brook due to slip risk from council land.

The remaining properties are deemed unliveable due to damage from private land, or the risk of landslides, of which five are owner-occupied and two are investment properties.

Council staff said current valuations put the cost of buying out the properties at about $10.9m, within the total funding cap of $12m (with the cost split 50/50 between the council and government).

Staff plan to notify eligible landowners on 1 July to seek confirmation on whether they wish to participate in the buyout offer process. Independent valuations would then be sought on these properties, with settling the owner-occupied properties a priority.

Mayor Nick Smith said it was the last and most difficult of the challenges that had arisen from the August 2022 storm.

"If we can resolve it successfully it will be a significant milestone in the recovery process."

He said it was unsurprising the issue had taken almost two years to resolve, given it involved a natural disaster, millions of dollars, people's homes and deficiencies in the law when it came to finding a pragmatic solution.

Choosing not to buy out the properties would mean turning down $12.3m in government support.

"You cannot pretend there is any benefit to the ratepayer from that, we end up with an unresolvable problem and without government support."

Setting a precedent

Councillor Tim Skinner was the only elected member who did not support the buyout offer and said the council was setting a precedent for something it was not responsible for.

"We are using ratepayers' money to pay for private slips onto private property, as much as I feel for those individuals, this is not something that we are liable for.

"We have become the insurance company for others' private matters."

Councillor Rachel Sanson said she was not initially in support of the buyouts, but the public feedback had changed that.

"I felt really uncomfortable about it, but I was surprised at the submissions and the empathy and generosity shown by such a large number of people in the community towards people who have been impacted by the weather event."

She was comfortable where the council had landed on the issue and said it would ensure equitable outcomes for those affected.

But councillors Aaron Stallard and Kahu Paki Paki both expressed concerns about the buyout offer being widened to include investment properties.

Stallard said based on what had happened in the North Island with government assistance, he thought the council should be seeking to look after those who had lost their homes.

"It is a big step and it is a new activity for council so I do have some reservations about the risks involved but if the community has given the overwhelming message they want to step into this, then they are also taking that risk."

However, he was not sure that council should be buying out investment properties.

"I think the whole intent was to look after those people who are without a home ... to me the people who are still in a home but have suffered investment losses that are not covered by EQC or insurance, I don't believe we should be going there."

Deputy mayor Rohan O'Neill-Stevens said it was not about stepping in where insurance had failed, it was about the intolerable risk to life and avoiding a cycle of disaster, then rebuild.

"That is not a risk we want in our community and that is not an outcome that benefits anyone."

He said council needed to advocate for legislative change so councils across the country could act consistently when dealing with future weather events.

"We also need to look forward to make sure we are making policy on a consistent, equitable basis, and one that can stand up to future scrutiny, not just the immediate needs we are faced with."

Councillor Trudie Brand agreed that central government needed to step up and address what would happen to properties deemed unsafe to live in after future severe weather events.

"They need to have a discussion about what role EQC and the insurers will play in that."

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