New Year Honours: Recognition symbolic of West Coast's resilience - ex-mayor Tony Kokshoorn

8:22 am on 31 December 2019

The Grey District's former mayor believes his New Year's honours recognition is symbolic of West Coast's resilience during a decade of adversity and struggle.

Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn.

Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Tony Kokshoorn is to be an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for service in local government for 21 years, including 15 years as Mayor of the Grey District Council.

Tony Kokshoorn is the Grey District's long-serving mayor, and announced he'd retire from politics next year to spend more time with his wife and family in April 2018.

"It's gratifying to be recognised in the honours list. It's something that you don't think of much but it's recognition really of the struggle the West Coast had over the last decade," he said.

Kokshoorn served as a Grey District Councillor before becoming Mayor in 2004.

In that time as Mayor he provided leadership at times of major difficulty on the West Coast, including following the Pike River Mine disaster on 19 November 2010, the closure of the Spring Creek Mine, and in the wake of a tornado that caused major destruction.

He has been commended on his role as the face of the West Coast community in national and international media coverage of the Pike River Mine disaster.

He said his family, friends and community would be pleased for him, but said "[West] Coasters don't put a huge amount on these types of gongs that are handed out.

"They tend to just roll their sleeves up and just get on with life... I tend to be a little bit like that too, but it is gratifying and I take it on behalf of the West Coasters."

Kokshoorn worked alongside the families of the 29 trapped men and contributed to a plan to gain re-entry to the mine and lobbied for the Pike River Mine to be built to bring much needed jobs to the West Coast following the decline of the timber milling industry.

Kokshoorn helped raise more than $30 million for West Coast charities, often at his own expense in travel time and resources.

During his tenure, the council had taken on $15m of debt but gained more than $130m in upgrades and infrastructure, Kokshoorn said.

"Over the last decade we have had to go through a painful transition from extractive industries to more sustainable industries. We've had to change our economy to tourism to fishing industry and agriculture."

Highlights included installing a $50m sewerage scheme for Greymouth and its outlying settlements as well as fundraising for the new Aquatic Centre and Westland Stadium, Kokshoorn said.

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