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Flood-hit Aucklander calls for 'urgent' managed retreat

Flooding in Auckland - Candia Road West Auckland
Flooding on Candia Road. Photo: RNZ / Felicity Reid

Some West Auckland residents whose properties have repeatedly flooded say their homes should not be repaired or rebuilt, and the land returned to nature.

Residents say the Waimoko Stream running through their backyards in Swanson, on the city's western edge, rose at least two metres above the top of the riverbank in just 20 minutes last Friday.

The water then receded just as quickly, leaving a foul-smelling sludge through the homes.

It's the second time in just two years the normally placid stream has flooded, leading calls for a managed retreat from the area.

Derek Judge has been living near the intersection of Candia and Pooks Roads for 12 years, and says people should not go back.

"We are currently yellow-stickered," he told RNZ's Midday Report. "We have restricted access to the property, so we're allowed into it to get important documents and valuables."

Others are worse off.

"There was a tiny home that floated down a road in Auckland - those were our neighbours," said Judge. "They'd been living in that tiny home since the last flood… while it's bad for us, it's been pretty shocking for them in the last year-and-a-half."

Judge's home is a metre off the ground, but the water was so high it was still "bench-height", he said, lifting his furniture off the floor. It was all over in just 40 minutes, leaving behind an "inch-and-a-half of infected mud".

"Now that it's been six days and locked, it's just - it smells disgusting. Everything has been lost."

While the 2021 flood left him with a skip bin full of rubbish, this time he said the whole property is a write-off.

"This time, you can't even start the clean-up - where do you start?"

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins earlier on Thursday said "tough calls" will need to be made regarding areas vulnerable to adverse weather events, which are expected to get worse as the climate warms.

"These are complex problems and the answers to them are not easy, when you're talking about potentially whole communities that might be in a vulnerable area that's difficult to remediate," he told RNZ's Nine to Noon.

Judge is in little doubt it's time to get started.

"The thought of rebuilding [in the same location], we'd essentially need to live in a treehouse now. We'd have to have almost a three-storey house and not use the bottom two… We are definitely in the urgent zone for the first stages of managed retreat."

The land used to be orchards, but has seen increasing development in the past decade. Judge said the stream was being used as a stormwater drain for "thousands" of new houses, and simply cannot cope.

"It's pretty clear to me the way that things are going, that the council or government is going to need to buy back these properties that are worst-affected."

He said his family would not be returning to their property to live, no matter the colour of the sticker.

"Going back there and waiting for it to happen again is not one of the things that we will consider, no."