9 Oct 2015

Optimism amid the sadness in Huntly

5:44 am on 9 October 2015

Job opportunites in nearby cities, a thriving housing market and businesses opening up give some in Huntly cause for optimism despite the closure of the town's coal mine.

The main street in Huntly

Shop owners in Huntly are optimistic about the town's prospects Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

State coal miner Solid Energy, in voluntary administration after being unable to pay debts of $400 million, yesterday confirmed plans to close Huntly East mine.

One of the 68 people employed there is Brian Lynch, who has lived in the Waikato town all his life and worked in its coal mines for more than 20 years.

The writing had been on the wall for the mine, he said, but yesterday's news still came as a shock.

Brian Lynch

Brian Lynch Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

"I'm 62-and-a-half so I thought I'd get another two-and-a-half years out of it to take me right through to retirement, but it looks as though I'm going to have to look for another job," said Mr Lynch.

He said Huntly was in a prime position between Auckland and Hamilton which both offer good job opportunities, so he was confident mine workers would find work.

Rahui Papa

Rahui Papa Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

Some locals feared the mine's closure would deal a serious blow to the community.

About 80 percent of the workers at the mine are Maori. Tainui executive Te Arataura chairman Rahui Papa said whanau as well as the wider community would suffer.

"It's going to have an effect on the schools, on the economy of Huntly itself and on the families definitely. It's going to have a detrimental effect across the board."

He said the iwi would offer support through retraining and social services to try to keep workers in the region and close to their whanau.

Others were more optimistic about the town's prospects.

Gift shop owner Karen Hennessey said Huntly it was changing rapidly and new businesses were opening.

Dallas Hodge

Dallas Hodge Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

"Lots of good stuff is happening, when the Waikato Expressway goes through Huntly is going to boom."

And then there's Huntly's housing market.

Harcourts managing director Dallas Hodge said the town was in the middle of a property boom. The median price of a three bedroom home is about $232,000.

"The property market in Huntly is really exciting. We are getting a lot of enquiries out of Auckland. Fifty-three percent of our sales were to Aucklanders this year, compared to 38 percent last year.

She said Huntly was vibrant and while the mine closure would have a short term impact, the town's long term prospects were bright.

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