Executive Summary

Introduction and Background

According to research conducted by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Center for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters, in the past 20 years, 43% of all-natural disasters worldwide were flooded. Due to climate change, the frequency and severity of flooding are projected to rise, placing more social capital at risk (Myers, 2016). The Hutt Valley, a region north of Wellington, New Zealand is particularly at risk of flooding. The Hutt Valley consists of two major cities, Upper Hutt and Lower Hutt, and the surrounding suburbs. Running through this valley is the Hutt River, a 56-kilometer river that serves as the sole route for water to travel from the 655 square kilometer catchment area into Wellington Harbour. Since this river serves such a large catchment, it is highly susceptible to flooding during large storms, particularly in narrow sections of the channel. If a severe flood were to occur, it would result in an estimated 6 billion NZD (4.41 USD) worth of damage to the Hutt Valley (GWRC, 2004). In efforts to increase flood protection, mitigation measures implemented since the early 20th century include channel widening, redirecting the river path, and building stopbanks.
The primary organization responsible for managing natural resources and flood protection in the Hutt Valley is the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC). In 2001, the GWRC published the Hutt River Floodplain Management Plan (HRFMP). The report designed a long-term plan to raise the level of flood protection from the Ava Bridge to Kennedy Good Bridge section of the Hutt River from a 1 in 100-year standard to a 1 in 400-year standard, the equivalent of a 2300 cumec flood. The report outlined detailed upgrades for existing stopbanks in the region and proposed additional flood protection measures including channel widening and bank erosion prevention. Additionally, the report included a community engagement strategy and environmental strategy to preserve natural species along the Hutt River.
Following the publication of the HRFMP, several major flood protection upgrades have been implemented in the Boulcott, Alicetown, and Strand Park suburbs of the Lower Hutt. The remaining section is the stretch between Ewen Bridge and Melling Bridge, adjacent to the Melling suburb. In order to address the need to implement flood protection upgrades along this portion of the river, address transportation issues in the Lower Hutt, and revitalize the Central Business District (CBD), the GWRC created the RiverLink project in 2012. This project is a collaboration between the GWRC, Hutt City Council (HCC), and New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) to address all of these issues through one overarching partnership. The GWRC is responsible for the flood protection components, the HCC is responsible for the revitalization of the CBD, and the NZTA is responsible for renovating the Melling Bridge and moving Melling Station closer to the CBD.
Five years since its inception, RiverLink is still in the approval stages, however, extensive work has been completed to ensure the public is informed of the coming changes. The goal of our project is to assist the GWRC in understanding the perceptions of residents living in the Melling suburb, the location of the future stopbank upgrades, as well as the perceptions of residents living in the Alicetown, Strand Park, and Boulcott suburbs, the locations of previous stopbank upgrades.

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In order to accomplish the above goals, our project was divided into four main objectives. Our first objective was to develop a complete understanding of past flood protection works and the RiverLink project from the perspective of project experts and field observations. In order to do so, we interviewed individuals from key organizations relating to the RiverLink project, including the GWRC, HCC, NZTA, and Whaitua Committee, local Māori natural resource management committee. We also conducted naturalistic observation along with the river parks. Our second objective was to assess the perceptions of residents living in Alicetown, Boulcott, and Strand Park, areas with previous flood protection upgrades. In this community, we identified a survey catchment of 137 households. In order to accomplish this, we used two different surveying methods to the target these specific residents, door knock interviewing and an online survey that was available through the flyers we passed out in the community as well as the GWRC Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages.
The third objective was to assess the perceptions of residents living in Melling, the area where flood protection upgrades will be implemented in the future. In this community, we identified a survey area of 50 households. In order to accomplish this, we used the same two survey methods previously mentioned, door knock interviews and an online survey available through the flyers we distributed in the community and the GWRC social media accounts. The fourth and final objective was to compile the data collected from the expert interviews, naturalistic observation, and community interviews, analyze the results in order to develop recommendations for the GWRC regarding how to best manage community perceptions of RiverLink, as well as how to best use the new space created on the Melling stopbanks. In order to analyze all of the quantitative data collected, we conducted a statistical analysis to find common responses from the multiple-choice and scaled questions from the door knock interviews and an online survey. Additionally, we coded the open response sections of the door knock interviews and an online survey. We also determined the usage rate and type of usage per hour from the naturalistic observation. In order to analyze the qualitative data, we conducted several comparative analysis by creating comprehensive data structures. The first data structure compared common themes found throughout the expert interviews. The second data structure
consisted of finding common themes related to community perceptions and the perceptions experts anticipated of the community. We also compared several key questions asked to both residents living where stopbanks have been upgraded in the past and in locations where they will be upgraded in the future.

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Results and Discussion

Results: Understanding of Past Flood Protection Works and the RiverLink Project
In total 12 interviews were conducted. We met with seven GWRC employees, including project engineers, project managers, and elected officials involved with both past flood protection upgrades and the RiverLink project. We also met with three HCC employees, the city urban designer, and two elected officials. Additionally, we met with a project coordinator from the NZTA and a member of the local Whaitua Committee. After coding all of the information from these interviews, we identified three aggregate dimensions. This first was that the Lower Hutt community is disconnected from the Hutt River. This was identified as a concern of representatives from every organization we interviewed. The next aggregate dimension was the general a lack of community awareness regarding the project process, scope, and outcomes of both past flood protection upgrades and the RiverLink project. This was identified by both the GWRC and the HCC. The third aggregate dimension was that community members are concerned about the construction process of future flood protection upgrades. This was
identified by the GWRC, HCC, and NZTA.
In order to gain an understanding of how the river parks are currently used, we conducted five different naturalistic observations in one or two hour increments. Over the course of these five observations, 327 stopbank users were observed. Only 2.45% of these users stayed for more than 30 minutes, while the rest were either walking, jogging, or biking through. We also determined that portions of the stopbanks felt unsafe.
Results: Perceptions of Residents Living in Areas with Previous Flood Protection Upgrades
In order to assess the perceptions of residents living in Alicetown, Boulcott, and Strand Park, we conducted a total of 25 door knock interviews. Additionally, we received 9 online survey responses from residents of these areas. For the questions that appeared on both the door knock interviews and an online survey, we coded and analyzed together. In general, community members had a positive perception of the flood protection upgrades that occurred near them. 25 out of 29 respondents said that their perception of the upgrades is either neutral or positive. When asked how to make the river parks more accessible, 11 out of the 28 respondents said they are already accessible. According to one resident “[The river parks are] well used already, there are always people walking dogs and riding bikes along the river.” This is supported by the fact that 29 out of 34 use the river park spaces at least 1 or 2 times per week.
Results: Perceptions of Residents Living in Melling
In order to assess the perceptions of residents living in Melling, 16 door knock interviews were conducted. In general, the community felt very positively towards the RiverLink project, as 15 out of 16 respondents said they felt “somewhat positive” or “extremely positive” in regards to the project. Despite this overwhelming acceptance, there was a wide variety of responses related to how informed the community members felt about the project process and the different components that are part of the RiverLink project, such as the Riverside Promenade, Melling Station changes, and Margaret Street Pedestrian Bridge.
Results: Comparative Analysis and Findings
Based on the data drawn from stakeholder interviews, naturalistic observation, and door knock interviews, we developed six overall findings to describe the status of current community and expert perceptions regarding flood protection upgrades, RiverLink, and river park usage in the Lower Hutt. The findings are outlined as follows:
1. The river parks are underutilized and disconnected from the Lower Hutt community
2. Melling community members feel positively towards the RiverLink project and expect their lifestyle and the way the community uses the river park to improve
3. Residents of Alicetown, Boulcott, and Strand Park currently use the river parks near them more frequently and find them more accessible than the residents of Melling find the Pharazyn and Marsden Street river parks
4. GWRC staff accurately identifies community perceptions of RiverLink and the mixed levels of awareness among community members
5. Alicetown, Boulcott, and Strand Park community members felt informed about the flood protection upgrades and satisfied with the outcome, yet voiced concerns regarding the construction process
6. Community members perceive sections of the river parks to be unsafe, and therefore avoid frequenting these areas

Based on the six findings that were determined through expert interviews, naturalistic observation, and community interviews, we developed three recommendations for the GWRC.
These recommendations are twofold, river park design recommendations, which focus on changes that can be physically implemented on the river, the berm, and the stopbanks themselves, and project process recommendations, which suggest ways to involve the community with RiverLink. The recommendations are as follows:
1. Improve safety in the river parks
2. Make the river a destination
3. Engage the community with the project process
In order to develop specific usage recommendations to improve safety and make the river a destination, we developed a decision matrix and identified 11 recommendations. Some of the smaller suggestions include park benches, trash cans, and animal waste bag dispensers. Some of the larger scale and more costly recommendations include public toilets, a car park, and an amphitheater. In order to engage the community with the project process, we developed several infographics that can be incorporated into the existing RiverLink newsletters in order to quickly communicate information with the community. We also recommend developing a community notification system to inform community members via text or email of construction updates once the project begins. Additionally, we recommend increasing in-person opportunities for Melling community members to speak with GWRC representatives or other community members who have experienced flood protection upgrades in the past. This can be accomplished through a pop-up table in the community or community meetings.


As the RiverLink project is approaching the implementation phase, it is vital to ensure that the community understands and supports the proposed changes in order for the project to be successful. Our recommendations proposed to the GWRC are intended to address the above needs, and to encourage positive relationships between the community, the river, the RiverLink the project, and the GWRC. By incorporating amenities and safety features into the design of the Pharazyn and Marsden Street stopbanks, community members will be more likely to frequent these locations and stay for longer periods of time. Continuing to engage the community with the project process and providing succinct and visual information, a greater portion of the community will be informed of the process and outcomes of RiverLink, thereby improving project outcomes and community perceptions. Our team’s belief is that the collected data, the summarized findings and the proposed recommendations accurately represent the views of both the community members and the experts in the field, and we hope these recommendations will be of assistance to the GWRC as RiverLink nears construction and designs for the Pharazyn and Marsden stopbanks begin.

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