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Hawke’s Bay mayors respond to announcement of categories

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst

Today’s Government announcement of the categories under which cyclone-hit areas will be assessed for future use is another step in the process, say Hawke’s Bay’s leaders.

Minister of Cyclone Recovery Grant Robertson said there would be three categories:

Low Risk: Repair to previous state is all that is required to manage future severe weather event risk. This means that once any flood protection near the property is repaired, the home can be rebuilt at the same site.

Managed Risk (with three subcategories): Community or property-level interventions will manage future severe weather event risk. This could include the raising of nearby stop banks, improving drainage or raising the property.

High Risk: Areas in the high-risk category are not safe to live in because of the unacceptable risk of future flooding and loss of life. Homes in these areas should not be rebuilt on their current sites.

Hawke’s Bay’s mayors and regional council chair said while the information was welcome, more detail was needed as soon as possible, including the process and timeline for how Government is going to consult with communities, to ultimately inform which areas are in which categories.

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said community input must be comprehensive and meaningful. “Government has said it will involve the communities in these decisions but we still have no idea when this consultation will occur and how effective it will be. We are strongly advocating for meaningful consultation which gives every affected person the chance to be involved.”

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little said while Government was clear that homes should not be rebuilt in areas deemed High Risk “even once a decision is made, relocating those communities is not going to be easy. There is hundreds of years of history in some locations; marae, urupa, and generations of connection to their whenua. It will be the start of another long journey for those communities.”

Another major issue is the lack of detail on any compensation process for landowners unable to rebuild, said Central Hawke’s Bay Mayor Alex Walker. “Only central government has the legislative power to remove the ability for people to live on their properties, so we need them to provide detail on this process; what the future options for their land may be, what a government purchase process would look like and how the value would be determined. This is the level of detail needed before they can start planning for their future.”

Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise highlighted that the lack of certainty around the process and decision timelines was adding to the stress of residents. “They are desperate for information, and its information we can’t give them until Government makes its decisions, and the longer that process takes the more distressing it is for those living in limbo.”

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council chairman Hinewai Ormsby said one of the major issues would be the options for enhancing flood protection systems. “There will be some difficult discussions for those areas in the middle category. We want people to be safe in their homes, but the big challenge may be money. We want central government to invest alongside the region in strengthening and building our stop banks back better. If we aren’t supported to rebuild our flood protection systems better, then the reality is we won’t have enough money and the risk of Cyclone Gabrielle 2.0 is even greater.”

Mr Robertson said he recognized that certainty was needed “as soon as possible . . . There is no one size fits all approach – each area is unique and influenced by a number of different factors which is why we are taking the time to get this right.”

2 May 2023

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