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Lawyers for Climate Action challenges NCC’s library decision

Lawyers for Climate Action New Zealand has written to Nelson City Council on behalf of Zero Carbon Nelson Tasman expressing concerns about the legality of the Council’s recent decision to develop a new Library on a site near the Maitai River.

[The letter to Nelson City Council from Lawyers for Climate Action is attached to this email. Lawyers for Climate Action ( )is an incorporated society whose members are lawyers, legal academics and law students throughout New Zealand committed to using their legal skills to help to drive the change needed to address the threat of climate change. Lawyers for Climate Action has recently initiated a judicial review of the Climate Change Commission’s advice to the government, and has sued Auckland Transport and Auckland Council in relation to a recently adopted land transport plan that fails to provide for any meaningful reduction in carbon emissions.]

Zero Carbon Nelson Tasman is calling on Nelson City Council to only make a final decision about the new Library location in conjunction with determining a climate change adaptation plan for central Nelson, to ensure that total costs to ratepayers are minimised. The group asks Council to ensure that any steps taken in relation to the proposed site on the corner of Halifax and Trafalgar Streets in the meantime are legally and practically reversible.

Spokesperson for Zero Carbon Nelson Tasman, Dr Aaron Stallard, says that Nelson City Council is well aware of the existing flooding risk to this area, and that this risk will increase due to climate change induced sea level rise and more extreme rainfall.

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Stallard says: “Despite full knowledge of the risk, the library decision has been made without undertaking any assessment or consultation in relation to the relative costs and benefits of different adaptation options for the Maitai flood plain, or different sites for the library. The Council appears to have assumed that increased protection measures will be taken over time, without considering whether managed retreat from this area would be in the long term interests of ratepayers.”

Zero Carbon Nelson Tasman believes that making the Library decision separately from determining a local adaptation plan is problematic because:

  • the Library development decision could be seen as predetermining the adaptation strategies by excluding managed retreat from this area;
  • at a minimum, the Library development decision will be a finger on the scales against managed retreat even though this might be the option that would minimise the long term costs for ratepayers; and
  • if managed retreat is ultimately the favoured option, then ratepayer expenditure on the Library development in this location may need to be written off.

Accordingly, Zero Carbon Nelson Tasman considers that the Council’s decision-making in relation to the Library development may have breached both the Local Government Act 2002 and the Council’s commitments under its Declaration of a Climate Emergency dated 16 May 2019.

Stallard says: “We are seeking to engage with the Council as to the intended timelines for the Library development and determining a climate change adaptation plan for the central city. So long as the library development decision remains reversible in practical and legal terms, this may avoid the need to challenge Council’s decision-making in Court.”

Lawyers for Climate Action co-founder James Every-Palmer QC said “Adaptation decisions in relation to the Maitai floodplain will be extremely difficult issues for the Nelson community to address. However, they cannot be side-lined from the decision to develop the Library in this area. This is an important test case to highlight that continued investment in areas that are vulnerable to climate change induced sea level rise and river flooding may not be the best option for ratepayers in the long term.”

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