Stalemate on stopbanks

Horizons Regional Council wants greater control over stopbanks that run through Palmerston North properties, but landowners are resisting the plan.

"It is unnecessary and unneeded," Ruamahanga Cres ratepayer Janita Stuart said.

The secondary stopbank runs from the Napier Rd drain, past the Ruamahanga wilderness area and along the length of the Palmerston North golf course to the Fitzroy bend.

Horizons, which is a "requiring authority", has asked Palmerston North City Council to designate the stopbanks in its review of section 10 of the District Plan.

Horizons said in its notice of designation that the banks, built in the 1950s, are a second line of defence in the event of a main bank failure upstream. "The worth of the bank in keeping Palmerston North free from flooding was made apparent during the flooding of 1992 where the golf club land was inundated, and the secondary bank remained the only defence for the city."

But since that flood, the height of the stopbanks closer to the Manawatu River had been raised, and Mrs Stuart said the secondary banks were not needed.

She pointed to a report written in 2000 for Horizons by consultant engineer John Philpott, who said they were "nice to have, but most probably not necessary".

Horizons investigations and design manager Peter Blackwood is standing by the assessment that the secondary stopbank is a strategic backup.

"We don't expect any failures on the principal system.

"However, if, in the unlikely event that one was to occur, these stopbanks would provide some reduction of flooding through Palmerston North and provide plenty of time for residents to evacuate the affected area."

Mr Blackwood said Mr Philpott's report dealt with the containment of local stormwater, and was not about the Manawatu River flooding.

"It is prudent for the secondary stopbank to remain in the Lower Manawatu Scheme and designation is needed to avoid any potential issues with landowners modifying the stopbanks," he said.

The designation sought by Horizons would allow it to carry out a range of activities - to mow the stopbanks, plant them, remove planting, repair damage to them, maintain walkways or cycleways, and inspect them.

But Horizons' proposed One Plan has been amended to allow activities on the secondary stopbank, such as planting shrubs and building fences. The only activities that are banned are excavations and land disturbances that could undermine the integrity of the stopbanks.

Mrs Stuart said Horizons had loosened restrictions to the extent that it told landowners they could remove easements from their titles that allowed council access to their properties.

"I have heard that some landowners have gone through the process of having the easement removed."

She said the designation suggested much broader powers for the council than just banning excavation.

"Surely the One Plan takes precedence over a city council designation."

The wider controls sought in the notice of designation would be fine on public land, or for primary stopbanks on private land, Mrs Stuart said. "It is putting unnecessary restrictions on what people can do with their land."

The One Plan allowed property owners to plant what they liked. "It's people's gardens."

Proposed changes to the designations section of the District Plan have been publicly notified, and Mrs Stuart is one of 11 submitters.

The city council is accepting further submissions until September 6.

Resource consent commissioners will hear the evidence and submissions, but their powers to make a decision that runs contrary to what requiring authorities want are limited.

Their role is to make recommendations based on what they hear, but the requiring authorities have the final say.

Manawatu Standard