The future hangs in the balance for Hawke’s Bay’s largest coastal communities as local authorities, having sidestepped the erosion challenge for decades, decide whether the Cape Coast becomes a demolition zone or the key to putting the heart back into Hawke’s Bay.

A win-win proposal to bring closure to the longstanding problems at Haumoana, Te Awanga and Clifton has been submitted to Hastings District and Hawke’s Bay Regional annual plans by community group WOW Incorporated.

In April last year local residents were given three options:  ‘do nothing’, ‘managed retreat’ or ‘hard engineering’. Doing nothing invites destruction, embarrassment and a massive ongoing clean up cost for the region. Managed retreat, the progressive removal of up to 200 homes over the next 5-10-years, would also have huge social and economic impact, essentially ripping the heart out of these communities.

The WOW plan for protection, a field of groynes and low level crest strengthening would however restore confidence and hope, open up opportunities for community growth and development and for Cape Coast tourism and hospitality to contribute significantly to visitor growth in the region.

WOW’s grand plan to have both local authorities working together to ensure the Cape Coast has a vibrant future is outlined in twin submissions: Hard engineering not a hard decision, the framework for a detailed plan to Save the Cape Coast and A Cape Coast Community Vision a forward looking statement of intent to rebrand, beautify and invigorate the community (see

WOW was advised by the Joint Councils Working Group on erosion that support for our groyne field depended on giving equal consideration to ‘managed retreat’. Our subsequent research shows ‘retreat’ will clearly cost far more than any groyne field.

Part of the $12.7 million cost for stage one of managed retreat; about 40 homes plus the 4 Square/Gannets Bar commercial centre, includes $4 million for alternative access roads, which the Hastings District Council is now prepared to put toward the groyne field.

Managed retreat is a complex beast. For a start, it terminally undermines property values, then forces residents to relocate as the sea rips away the land, littering rubble, concrete and rusty steel along our beaches.

We’re also mindful that the literal flow-on effect of removing the 21 most at-risk beachside homes would in fact accelerate inundation of properties on the opposite side of Clifton Rd. They are the last line of defence, preventing the sea rolling into vineyards, orchards, farmland and a proposed housing development which are all below sea level.

WOW, with its internationally respected coastal engineer, is planning the staged construction of seven groynes between the Clifton Rd Reserve down to the existing groyne at the Tukituki river mouth. Any downstream impact will be carefully managed and be capped off by the existing groyne, which in itself provides ample evidence that groynes are effective.

In stark contrast to managed retreat or do nothing, this carefully engineered will deflect rogue wave action, build gravel volume back on our beaches, and prevent further erosion.

Construction can be achieved for $4 million, or just under $5.5 million including maintenance, if we have to pre-fill all groynes with metal. WOW likes the natural fill approach, keeping gravel on our own beaches that might otherwise be harvested by the Awatoto shingle plant, while Hawke’s Bay Regional Council prefers pre-filling. A compromise may yet be reached.

The question everyone keeps asking is, ‘how are you going to pay for the groynes?’ If you add $2 million (half the replacement roading cost pledged by Hastings District Council) to the $3 million promised in a lawyer’s letter from a local benefactor, we already have $5 million. The remaining $2 million from Hastings will be held over for a stage two protection plan for Te Awanga and Clifton.

From the outset WOW asked the councils to cover the full cost of resource consent but concedes it may have to dig deeper to avoid debates about money delaying our protection plan or derailing it altogether.

Ahead of making any contribution both councils have engaged an independent planning consultant to determine if our protection plan can pass muster. So far the number looks to be around $674,000, for new ecological, architectural, gravel movement, legal and planning reports, a series of peer reviews, the final engineering designs and consent filing costs.

Current thinking is that process may be streamlined if we go direct to the Environment Court. Meanwhile we’re still negotiating the diverse and often arbitrary interpretations of the National Coastal Policy Statement, the proposed Regional Coastal Environment Plan and the Resource Management Act.

Over the past year we’ve been told hard engineering is prohibited, and even that local authorities have no say in the matter. At times we had to question whether our weekly committee meetings, endless reports, community consultation and high level discussions with the Joint Councils group were simply a waste of time?

WOW remains positive and convinced there is in fact sufficient flexibility in the law to allow hard engineering … if it is proven to be a ‘last resort’ and ‘the best practicable option’.

To better understand the central government position we called a meeting with local MPs Craig Foss and Chris Tremain, attended by local businesses and the Hastings executive team.  They were surprised at the progress WOW had made, were pleased to see we were looking to partner with Hastings District Council, and offered their full support if that could be formalised.

Subsequently we received letter from both the Minister of Conservation and the Minister for the Environment stating that Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and Hastings District Council do in fact have full ‘discretion’ in the matter.

In other words local councils can save the Cape Coast if they want to. Clearly it would be simpler, cost less and be nowhere near as painful, if they worked together to back the WOW vision.

Timing is essential and WOW would like to get a heads of agreement signed before we get too far into the local body election silly season. One of the hurdles may be a public notification and submissions process to ensure there are no objections from locals and the wider community.

From a ratepayer perspective, the worst possible news is, that unless we can find the final half million dollars required, rates may have to go up by the cost of a cup of coffee for the next 25-years ($3 annually). I am hopeful that ongoing WOW fundraising may yet reduce the ratepayer cost to zero.

To keep things in context, what we’re proposing is a massive improvement on the recommendations of the original Tonks Report which favoured ‘managed retreat’ with its then unknown costs and impacts.  This was pitched as the lesser of two evils; the greater being 13 groynes at $18.5 million, 90 percent of which would be borne by coastal dwellers, at up to $300,000 per property.

The councils asked for community consultation and input, both of which have been provided through WOW. We’ve also evolved and refined the groyne field option and made it practical, acceptable and affordable.  What we’re giving back is a detailed proposal that will solve the erosion problem at negligible cost by building volume back on our beaches and giving the Cape Coast a fighting chance for a vital future.

Moreover, our plan complements perfectly the proposed development of the National Cycleway / Rotary Pathways Trust Cycleway along our beachfront. Indeed, to further enhance that vision, every effort must be made to protect the cycleway from high swells and turbulent wave action.

The Cape Coast, with its awesome natural assets, rich historical heritage, fishing, boating, kayaking, surfing, walking and cycling; the farmyard zoo, museums, award winning restaurants, cafes, wineries, and of course the gannets, represents the best the Bay has to offer.

There doesn’t seem to be any practical reason why local authorities would want to turn their back on this an opportunity to save an iconic coastal community, when the social, environmental, business and engineering case, and the long term benefits to the wider region, are so patently clear.

If Hastings is the ‘Heart of Hawke’s Bay’ then the Cape Coast, as a centre for tourism, hospitality and the creative arts, can be seen as ‘giving Hawke’s Bay an edge’. However the literal edge is fraying and WOW is asking local councils to work together with the community to ensure it doesn’t unravel any further.

Keith Newman
Spokesperson, WOW

Managed retreat vs hard engineering
Managed retreat
Remove and relocation an initial 40 homes plus commercial centre within3-5 years, reroute water, electricity and create new access roads
$12.7 million
(including up to $4 for new roads and access ways)
Hard engineering
Prevent erosion, build volume on beaches, protect private property and public assets and utilities between Clifton Rd Reserve and existing Tukituki river groyne
$4 million (unfilled)

$5.5 million (filled with shingle)

Join the Conversation


  1. Sounds like a no-brainer to me. Surely both councils could unite on this especially when it's 99% paid for already. The coast could do with a tidy up for the benefit of all of Hawkes Bay and its visitors.

  2. It is time the Council got it together if they dont Hawkes Bay is in trouble, not only the houses by the beach but the whole of the Bay. We would not only loose houses but the road into

    Clifton and Teawanga ,so we would loose a whole comunity,

    Tourist attractions, World renown Golf Course ,Camping grounds, Access to Cape Kidnappers All of which keep Hawkes Bay on the map and attract hundreds of visitors to the bay.We need to SAVE the Coast

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.