Govt turns down city bid for climate cash

South Dunedin leaders say the government’s decision to turn down a council plea for $132.5 million to help the city cope with climate change is a "kick in the guts".

The city council, with the support of the regional council, went cap-in-hand to ministers in April asking for a funding decision on a bid they submitted eight months earlier at the invitation of the former government.

The bid sought to establish a council fund to buy low-lying properties in South Dunedin, which is facing rising sea levels and already-shallow groundwater.

Mayor Jules Radich and city council chief executive Sandy Graham have now received a letter from the Treasury rejecting the bid.

Long-time South Dunedin campaigner Eleanor Doig said she was "disgusted".

"It is essential that government works out its climate change adaptation principles and understands there are three legs on the stool — central government, local government and communities. To just renege on locally-led, positive community efforts by not funding the change needed is more than disappointing. It is a kick in the guts."

In the bid, the Dunedin City Council proposed buying 1% of properties a year for five years. The gradual voluntary sales could prevent people being forced to sell as flooding becomes more common.

The DCC bid said that "land use change could be up to 100% in the next 100 years". South Dunedin has around 6500 properties, more than 95% of them privately owned, meaning about 60 properties could have been bought per year.

The funding was being sought from a $6 billion fund set up by the previous government to help deliver its national resilience plan.

Deputy mayor Cherry Lucas. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Deputy mayor Cherry Lucas. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Deputy mayor Cherry Lucas described the government’s decision as "disappointing, but not surprising" as a different approach had been expected by the new government. The important thing was the "critical work" of the council-led South Dunedin Future project, which is undertaking planning, while continuing to seek central government funding.

"The challenges faced by South Dunedin are of a scale and complexity that require central government support — this is not something councils and communities can tackle alone."

DCC chief executive Sandy Graham said the decision was "not the outcome we had hoped for", but discussions were continuing with the government, including whether the council could apply to a $1.2b Regional Infrastructure Fund, which opens next month.

South Dunedin charity SuperGrans’ administrator Cathryn Mazer warned it would be more expensive to deal with climate change later than now.

The cost-of-living crisis meant many people in South Dunedin were suffering anxiety and undertaking a "vast effort just to get by and stay in housing".

Concern about climate change added "extensive additional pressure that is hard for people to cope with".

"We need national government funding to support solutions. We must stand together as a nation and protect those parts of the community that need help".

South Dunedin Community Network’s community engagement manager Kirsten Gibson said the decision was "to the detriment of the community" and Dream South D chairwoman Sarah Jones said the community was concerned and "deserves to see actions" from all levels of government.

Treasury’s letter urged the DCC to submit comments to a climate adaptation parliamentary inquiry being led by the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee. The government has promised to consider the inquiry’s recommendations.

The decision is also scheduled to be discussed during tomorrow’s Otago Regional Council meeting.

Treasury failed to respond by deadline.