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Nearly 8000 homes, dozens of businesses and 145 kilometres of roads in Napier are on land that may be affected by rising seas, according to a major report tabled in Parliament on Thursday.

They are all in areas of the city identified in a national report on rising seas published by Environment Commissioner Jan Wright. She recommends a major overhaul of the way New Zealand prepares for coastal erosion and severe sea level rises, and stresses the need for councils to engage with coastal communities in a careful and considered manner. "Perhaps the most difficult aspect is the impacts on people's homes, which for many are much more than financial security. Councils must use science that is fit for purpose, and engage with communities in a measured way and with empathy," Wright said. The 7973 Napier homes, 76 businesses and roads are identified as being less than 150cm above the spring high tide mark. More than 1320 of those homes are less than 50cm above that mark. The areas identified in the report include the Hawke's Bay Airport, the council-developed Parklands Residential Estate subdivision, and much of the suburbs of Tamatea, Marewa, Jervoistown, Meeanee, Te Awa and Awatoto. The number of homes lying at an elevation of just 50cm or less in Napier, at 1321, is far greater than in other centres identified in the report, and only Dunedin has more. "Much of Napier has been built on land that rose out of the sea during the 1931 earthquake or has been reclaimed since that time," the report says. "Nearly 8000 homes are less than 150 centimetres above the spring high tide mark, and a considerable area of the city, including the airport, is less than 50 centimetres above the spring high tide mark." In Hastings, the suburbs of Clive and Haumoana are identified as being among the most vulnerable areas. Wright's report said little thinking had been given to how a managed retreat strategy would be implemented, and said the alternative to managing "an inevitable" retreat was leaving people living in homes that become first uninsurable and then uninhabitable. Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton said he agreed with the commissioner that sea level rise was a certainty, but there was time to address it.

He was not aware of homes being uninsurable due to the risk of sea level rise, "but there will be properties that have had significant erosion of land and sea damage from sea surge and if that has happened with a degree of frequency it is possible that there may be higher excesses on those properties, or there may be an exclusion for a certain sort of damage". He used the example of the Flockton basin in Christchurch, which sank after the earthquakes and became prone to flooding. "Insurers there said, 'Look this is happening two or three times a year' and there is now a higher excess of up to $10,000. That's a typical example of how insurers will respond in the first instance." Napier Mayor Bill Dalton said the report "highlights beyond any doubt that we have an issue with sea level rise" and that councils needed to plan accordingly. "But it's certainly not something we need to panic about." He said Napier was "ahead of the eight-ball" because it had combined with other local councils and was close to releasing a strategy that has been worked on over the past year which assesses coastal hazards and risk management options for the Hawke's Bay coast between Tangoio and Clifton to the year 2120. The strategy, developed by Hawke's Bay Regional Council, Hastings District Council, Napier City Council and iwi, will determine which risks are acceptable to the community, and what responses might be taken. That work has showed there was "just a 5 per cent risk of it going to the worst possible scenario between now and 2120".

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