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Published: 2004-05-18 00:00:00

Waikato’s Civil Defence Emergency Management Group is concerned that homeowners might consider suing councils for flood damage after major floods, despite the fact that councils are not liable for flooding.

Group member, Matamata-Piako District Council Mayor Hugh Vercoe said suing councils for flood damage was usually costly and time-consuming for homeowners, and had a relatively low chance of success. Councils faced high costs to defend legal action, and those costs fell back on ratepayers.

“Councils are generally not liable for flood damage unless a direct cause and effect can be proven, and flooding is generally the result of numerous factors. It is unfortunate that the community still ends up paying, even when the legal action is unsuccessful.”

He said taking legal action against councils may also prompt others to assume that insurance cover is no longer required.

Waikato Civil Defence Emergency Management Group Chairman and Otorohanga District Council Mayor Eric Tait said councils undertook work to avoid flood damage as part of day-to-day business and had legislative responsibilities to ensure that land was managed to minimise damage to property from natural hazards, including floods.

“It is common practice within local authorities throughout the Waikato Region to identify areas at risk from flooding and make this information readily available to landowners.”

Where information was not available, councils usually required prospective buyers or landowners to provide it. New developments must be designed to avoid the effects of flooding as part of consent requirements under the Building Act.

Where existing flood risks had been identified, information was available on the Certificate of Title under the Building Act.

“Potential buyers with concerns should talk to a council representative before completing a purchase. Potential buyers have a responsibility to ensure that all relevant information is sought prior to completing a property purchase,” he said.

The Waikato Civil Defence Emergency Management Group is a consortium of 11 local authorities with collective responsibility for regional civil defence emergency management. It is preparing a Plan for the region to help further define risks from all hazards, including river flooding.

The Plan will help identify the need for additional work above on-going river flood mitigation work, to help further reduce flood risks.