The Plan Change 1 decision in Whakatane has revoked existing use rights for property owners in Matata. The plan changes are the culmination of work following a debris flow in 2005. The plan change was undertaken alongside a land acquisition process to enable managed retreat.

Existing use rights are a foundation of the planning framework. They are part of the ‘existing environment’. I’m not an expert on jurisdiction by any means and have not read everything about this particular situation, but the decision just doesn’t feel good to me. To my mind, legislation should be forward looking and prospective. The Legislation Guidelines: 2018 edition include the presumption against retrospectivity. But there are circumstances when retrospective legislation might be appropriate. This includes when it is entirely to the benefit of those affected or addresses a matter that is essential to public safety.

Whether right of wrong; revoking existing use rights is ‘shifting the goalposts’ and fundamentally unfair to those involved. One thing is for sure: Managed retreat just got real.