Rising seas, insurance, erosion: Auckland homeowners last to know

May 9, 2023

Rising seas, insurance, erosion: Auckland homeowners last to know

Almost 100 per cent of erosion jobs are for beachfront properties and developments in Auckland. Image: Ben Jenkinson

As coastal erosion and rising sea levels threaten Auckland homeowners' insurance rates, experts are calling for proactive measures to mitigate risks and plan for long-term consequences.

Pakuranga homeowner Megan Butterworth was surprised to learn that the expected sea level rise over the next 30 years is likely to affect coastal home insurance.

"We own a business, so we have a lot to do with insurance companies, we know how ruthless they are. They're happy to take people's premiums but they sure aren't that great at paying money out for what's needed to be done, that's for sure,”

Excess rates for many Auckland homes could bring coastal home flood insurance excess from $2,000 to $10,000 after 10cm of sea rise.

“It's hard to know who's fighting for you, it’s like David and Goliath,” she says.

Butterworth added that more government investment is needed to address the issue.

"I'm not saying we should be removed [from responsibility], but by the time it reaches where we are, there's a whole lot of council land that it's got to erode first so why should we be responsible for paying for the protection of that?"

Coastal Planner for Davis Coastal Engineering and Planning, Ben Jenkinson, explained that wave action and breakdown of the coast by weathering are the main causes of erosion in Auckland.

“You get wetting and drying cycles as the tide goes in and out and it slowly deteriorates the bottom of the cliff,” he says.

Coastal Engineer, Sam Scott-Kelly said mending damage after erosion occurs is not “black and white.”

“It's very costly, people don’t typically want to spend $5,000 on a site-specific study when you’re buying a house. So, it needs to be well thought out,” he says.

“You know the minute you see an erosion issue, you're not gonna have it fixed tomorrow, next week, or even a month from now [in most cases].”

Scott-Kelly explained that research is being conducted at the regional and national levels to understand the impact of erosion on a larger scale.

“[We look at] what happens if specific coastlines erode and what’s at risk if this continues to occur. It’s working that interface between people and the environment,” he says.

Scott-Kelly noted that when erosion impacts flora and fauna, it decreases habitat value and increases slippage risk.

“Once you see erosion removing those habitats, historic and native trees up and around the cliff faces, you're left with just a house on the edge of a cliff,” he says.

Scott-Kelly also noted that banks and insurers are becoming increasingly aware of coastal erosion risks, with recent floods ‘eye-opening’ for those industries he says.

“I think the insurance one is a biggie, ten years ago there was talk that insurers might drive the retreat from the coast.”

“As a collective nation, our appraisal of hazard risks is markedly better now than it used to be,” he says.

Auckland Council is doing a lot of work to assist with resource consent and coastal hazard assessments. It is also reviewing mortgage susceptibility to sea level rise.

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