Nelson residents support council buying out flood-affected properties

The majority of Nelson residents who have made submissions to the council’s long-term plan support it buying out private properties affected by slips from the August 2022 storm.

Last September, the government offered Nelson City Council a $12.3 million support package as part of the flood recovery, with $6m earmarked for the buyout of up to 14 properties and $6m towards the betterment of remediating slips on council land – both in a 50/50 cost-sharing deal with the council.

The funding also included $300,000 to cover a 10-year monitoring programme for the Tāhunanui slump.

The council accepted the $12.3m offer – subject to consulting with the community as part of its on long term plan on the buyout element.

The slip that came down the hillside and inundated Jo Chamberlain and Mark Hewson's property in Nelson, causing it to be red-stickered.

It put four options on the table; to not support the buyout offer, to accept the offer and apply eligibility buy-out principles (the council’s preferred option), to accept the offer but amend the eligibility buy-out principles, or to renegotiate the buy-out offer with the government.

Of the 1504 submissions to the draft long-term plan, almost 60 percent (878) expressed an opinion on the buyout proposal and of those, the majority (55.8 percent) expressed support for the council’s preferred option.

Nearly 18 percent said they did not support any of the four options, 13 percent supported renegotiating the buy-out offer with the government, seven percent supported the buy-out offer with amended eligibility buy-out principles while six percent said they did not support the buy-out offer.

More than a year and a half on, there remains nine red-stickered and 61 yellow-stickered homes.

Mud and debris behind Andy Kenton's house following the 2022 August floods.

Residents in limbo for the last 20 months

In his submission to council, red-stickered homeowner Andy Kenton said his family had not been able to return home since the August storm and their insurance and EQC payout came to a third of their property value. The remediation of the steep, slip prone land behind their house was estimated to cost $4.2m in order to make the house safe to live in.

“That will never happen under our ownership and we will never return home.”

He said it had been frustrating to see conflicting information released by council about the number of properties being considered for a buy-out.

It was originally said the 10 properties purchased by the council on slip prone land in The Brook were additional to the 14 properties the government had offered to purchase in a cost-sharing deal with the council, which was not the case.

“That was put out at a crucial time early in the consultation and could have left the public assuming that they were paying for those 10 properties as well as a further 14 and this was never fully clarified and council needs to take this into account when considering those submissions that do not support the buy-out.”

Nelson City Council infrastructure group manager Alec Louverdis said the council’s “best guess at the time” was that there were 14 eligible properties – where the landslide risk was too high for property owners to return to their homes and the cost to mitigate it was prohibitive.

The 10 properties in The Brook were included in that figure and it had since become clear there were more than 14 properties in total, around 17 that could be eligible for a buy-out.

He said the council would have a clearer idea of the exact number of eligible properties once the long-term plan was finalised.

An aerial photo showing the extent of the slip behind Jo Chamberlain and Murray Hewson's house.

If the council voted to accept the government’s offer and buy out the properties, the criteria would be finalised and the council would write to the homeowners who were deemed eligible.

Mayor Nick Smith told Kenton the council understood how stressful the situation had been for affected property owners since the storm in August 2022.

“We get it and we hear your message about how tough it is for yourself, your partner and the other property owners that are affected.”

Murray Hewson and Jo Chamberlain also told the council during the long-term plan submission hearings that their Nelson home in The Brook was red-stickered after the August storm.

Their house was inundated with a slip containing rocks, mud and vegetation that reached roof height at the back of their property. The wall of their bedroom caved in with the force of it and trees smashed through the windows either side of their bed.

“We’ve endured excruciating loss and major uncertainty since August 2022 through no fault of our own,” Chamberlain said.

A slip burst through the wall of Jo Chamberlain and Mark Hewson's home in The Brook in August 2022.

A council valuation after the storm put their home’s capital value at $560,000, down $240,000 from the previous year. They received a $300,000 payout from EQC and were told they would not receive an insurance payout until the slip threatening the house was remedied.

They spent close to $100,000 removing 330 tonnes of soil off the property and having geotechnical work done to examine slip remediation options. The repair was costed at around $1m, but they couple learnt late last year that they would remain at risk of future landslides due to hillside instability beyond their property.

Chamberlain said she knew then they had exhausted their options and would be saying goodbye to their home.

“We were heartbroken to lose it,” Chamberlain said. “It’s been an awful journey, every day since.”

The couple, both former teachers, also own a property in Blenheim and split their time between the two towns, renting one out for accommodation while in the other. Chamberlain said it had been suggested that because the couple did not live in Nelson full time, they might not be eligible for a buyout.

About 330 tonnes of dirt had to be removed from Jo and Murray's property in The Brook after the August 2022 storm.

They had not been told if they were one of the 14 properties.

“I thought it was just ridiculous, we are residents and ratepayers in Nelson like everyone else, we own that property and we lived there as much as we did in our Blenheim property – two modest homes to try and make a future for ourselves.”

She said they wanted the situation resolved, as it had been for residents in the North Island following Cyclone Gabrielle.

“We will not be victim to a postcode lottery and we will not lie down until justice is done and right now, this justice is in your hands.”

A decision on whether the Nelson City Council will accept the government’s offer and proceed with the buy-out of private properties affected by slips in the August 2022 storm was expected in the coming months.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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