Christchurch Council’s flawed data for sea level rise

The Press reports:

A new review has slated the sea-level findings used by to assess risks to coastal properties.

While council has scrapped fast-tracked plan changes based on the findings, coastal residents want hazard warnings removed from their properties’ LIM reports.

The findings were in a report on 50-to-100-year risk, written by consultants Tonkin & Taylor. The report identified 18,000 properties as being threatened by rising sea levels, and 6000 by coastal erosion. LIM reports were amended to match.

Mathematician and policy analyst has now reviewed Tonkin & Taylor’s report. He considers it was statistically flawed, based on outdated law, and exaggerated the effects of sea-level rise.

“Scientists and engineers are good at talking about what is happening, but they struggle with this level of forecasting – it’s too complex,” Arnold said. “You really need to get a specialist statistician involved.”

Arnold said the report was not fit for purpose and the council should never have relied on it. He urged them to back away from it.

“The Council is in an untenable position. This exaggeration of risk is costing homeowners now, a lot of people are affected by it,” he said.

Arnold is a mathematician with experience as a policy analyst and forecaster for government , and has worked as an advisor to the McDiarmid Institute, and previous Prime Ministers. He lives on the Kapati Coast but said his property is not affected by coastal hazard projections.

He sent his review to both the Christchurch City Council and Tonkin & Taylor last month. 

So what do they say?

A spokeswoman for Tonkin & Taylor said they had already spoken to Arnold about his review, and did not want to wish to comment publicly. No-one was available from the Christchurch City Council to discuss the review.

I bet – very embarrassing for them.

Arnold’s review questions the statistical methodology of the report, which he calls misleading. He asserts much of it is based on 1994 coastal policy statements in the Resource Management Act, rather than the updated 2010 version.

The review also says while the Tonkin & Taylor report is based on possible hazards, the law requires recognition of likely hazards only when assessing risk. 

There is a huge difference between likely and possible.

He also pointed the city council towards a report written this year by retired principal Environment Court judge Joan Allin, which criticised how coastal risks were increasingly over-estimated.

Allin’s report said she had “developed concerns about what other NZ coastal experts are doing. It seems that a number of them consider that it is appropriate . . . to provide only results that are very unlikely, or overstated.”

This is from the former principal judge.

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