Communications key in Ngongotaha flood debacle


11 December 2018

An independent review into the April 2018 floods that swept through Ngongotaha has delivered a damning indictment of communications before and after the event by the Rotorua Lakes Council and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.

Review panel’s report was released today, and the 109-page report clearly illustrates how tardiness and a lack of communication between the two agencies and with the public undermined measures that may have prevented the worst impacts of the one in 100-year floods.

While the report does not place outright blame on either council for the debacle around the flooding, it does say in its Recommendations section:

“Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Rotorua Lakes Council work collaboratively with each other and the Ngonghotaha community and iwi to improve inter-council and public relations and communications channels.”

The two councils needed to revisit existing understandings and “informal” agreements regarding the management roles and responsibilities for the maintenance of the full length of the Ngongotaha stream and document these in a formal and binding memorandum of understanding.

The review panel’s engagement with the community highlighted how, although “the community responded quickly to the flooding, many considered that the communication from the RLC and BOPRC was too little, too late.”

Most locals simply had no knowledge that their properties were subject to a risk of flooding.

“Everyone” commented on the speed and the force of the flood water, which took them by surprise … they had not expected any problem and there was no warning, or they thought the danger was over.”

Residents who had not experience flood took the danger too lightly, so “it seems that it was largely luck that averted disaster” with emergency response groups being crucial in evacuating people.

“While the community responded quickly to the flooding, many considered that the communication from RLC and BOPRC was too little, too late.”

People the review panel talked too were unclear about the two councils’ responsibilities.  Many understand the Rotorua council was the first point of contact for stream maintenance issues but were confused about who should respond during and after the flooding event.

“Submitters talked about being passed between the RLC and the BOPRC, with neither taking responsibility.”

In the Options for Improvement – Community Engagement section, the panel said it believed there was a need for the councils to clarify their roles, regulations and processes between themselves, provide those guidelines to front line staff and to publicise those regularly.

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