Spend to save: investigating the property acquisition process for risk reduction in Aotearoa New Zealand

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Saunders WSA, Smith G. 2020. Spend to save: investigating the property acquisition process for risk reduction in Aotearoa New Zealand. Lower Hutt (NZ): GNS Science. 65 p. (GNS Science report; 2020/23). doi:10.21420/6GR9-EE44.

Limiting development in known high-hazard areas is among one of the most effective tools available to local governments to reduce future hazard risk and increase resilience, and yet, the widespread practice of acquiring hazard-prone properties and converting the land to open space in New Zealand remains highly varied. This report outlines Aotearoa New Zealand examples of hazard-prone housing acquisition (or buyout) processes, based on four legislative mechanisms: special legislation (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011), the Resource Management Act 1991, the Building Act 2004 and the Public Works Act 1981. Four case studies are used to help describe the process and to provide preliminary lessons, policy recommendations and areas of future research: Christchurch, Kaikōura, Lower Hutt and Matatā. In Aotearoa New Zealand, there is no standardised disaster-based hazard mitigation funding programme for property acquisition. This has the benefit of significant planning often being undertaken prior to enacting buyouts, which helps to identify unique local conditions. When funding is made available, it is often created as part of a one-off process rather than an institutionalised set of hazard mitigation programmes like those found in the United States. Having a formalised process in place can facilitate a greater understanding of what is expected of all participating parties, and yet, this formalisation has led to highly prescriptive programmes in the United States that can hinder the ability to craft flexible buyout strategies that reflect local needs. In Aotearoa New Zealand, the lack of land-use planning mechanisms to achieve risk reduction through property acquisition and, in some cases, a lack of pre-planning frameworks for the land once acquired (i.e. regeneration planning) remains problematic. More specific challenges include a lack of national guidance on levels of risk; securing of funding; keeping communities together; speed of process; and the demolition, reconstruction or relocation of buildings. Preliminary findings suggest the creation of a hybrid buyout programme drawing on the strengths of both United States and Aotearoa New Zealand approaches. This report is part of a wider comparative study between the United States, New Zealand and Australia, and its preliminary results will unpack the characteristics that inform ‘success and failure’, the different policy mechanisms available and the gaps in our understanding of buyouts. This information will inform a future research agenda and improvements in policy. (auth)