Expansion of coastal settlements

In many parts of New Zealand, urban areas on the coast are expanding to accommodate growing populations. There is a strong demand for sea views and proximity to beaches, which can result in houses extending along the coast and into the hills surrounding coastal settlements.

If poorly managed, the expansion of coastal settlements may have significant negative impacts on the coastal environment. Incremental, lot-by-lot subdivision can result in ribbon development stretching along the coastal edge. Buildings extending onto ridges and headlands detract from the natural setting which frames existing coastal settlements.

Increased levels of urban development in catchments draining into the sea have the potential to reduce water quality and degrade marine ecosystems, as the quantity of sedimentation and stormwater runoff increases. Development can also degrade or destroy historical and cultural sites if these are not adequately protected.

Expanding the location of houses into low-lying areas close to the coastal edge can result in an increased risk from coastal hazards such as erosion, flooding and tsunamis. Owners of threatened properties may demand that structures, such as seawalls and groynes, be built to protect their properties as beaches erode and dunes migrate inshore. This problem can be made much worse if coastal vegetation is removed and dunes lowered to improve views.

While the number of houses in coastal settlements may be increasing, this does not always result in a growth in the resident population. Many coastal houses are used as holiday homes, and are only occupied infrequently, with the owners primarily living elsewhere. Retirees moving into a coastal settlement to live may eventually move out again, as their health deteriorates and they require  better access to medical services. Existing residents hoping for better services, from growth of their coastal settlements, may be disappointed when new houses are only used seasonally.

On the positive side, providing more opportunities for people to live on the coast by expanding areas already developed, can help protect undeveloped coastal areas. It can also increase the amount of legal public access to the coast where esplanade reserves or strips are provided on subdivision. If well-designed to fit within the landscape, and if contained within clearly defined urban boundaries, such development can create additional coastal living opportunities for New Zealanders while helping to retain the special values of the coast.

Last updated at 2:12PM on February 25, 2015