24 Feb 2023

Northland 'absolutely not' forgotten - Hipkins

2:12 pm on 24 February 2023
Prime Minister press conference in Gisbourne

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins (file photo) Photo: RNZ/ Nate McKinnon

On the ground in Northland today, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins says the recent storms have had a significant impact and the region has not been forgotten.

Speaking to reporters this afternoon, he said his visit was an opportunity to hear from people directly on the ground and local leaders.

"We're very aware of which parts of the country have been affected by this, and you will have seen me in my first visits out of Wellington visiting those areas that have been most devastated.

"The reason I'm in Northland today is because I recognise that there's been a really significant impact here."

He said Northland had "absolutely not" been forgotten and it was clear that roading was a priority for the region's mayors.

"It's an area of focus for our government too, you'll already see significant investment being made in the roads up here, and I think that the recent events have highlighted that there are some more areas that we need to focus on as well."

Labour's MP for Te Tai Tokerau Kelvin Davis, who has been named as the lead minister for the storm response in Northland, was with him and said the first priority was to get State Highway 1 at the Brynderwyns open with lanes in both directions.

"And I'm one of the people that lives north of the Mangamuka Gorge - I just want the road open and it would be good to have two lanes, one in each direction."

Deputy Labour Party leader Kelvin Davis speaks to media at Waitangi on 4 February 2023.

Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis Photo: RNZ / Ella Stewart

The second priority would be mental health: providing emotional support in the long term to those affected, he said.

Longer-term infrastructure needs - like an expressway or tunnel, as requested by one mayor - would need to be prioritised, discussed and planned.

Davis said he planned to meet with Pacific leaders, iwi and other organisations to talk about a way forward.

"It's not about only the government coming up with solutions, it's not about only councils coming up with solutions, it's about us working together and of course in the mix there we must engage with iwi, with Māori, so that their needs and concerns are part of the mix, they're an integral part of any solutions rather than just being an afterthought."

"It's about gathering all their thoughts and their concerns and presenting a coherent plan ... to my colleagues in Wellington, so myself, Emily Henderson and Willow-Jean Prime can lobby for the needs of the whole Tai Tokerau region."

Hipkins also spoke about the need for long-term planning, saying roading networks needed to be rebuilt in a way that would help them withstand future weather events - which were set to worsen and become more frequent with climate change.

"We've seen really good examples in recent years of when our roading network has been rebuilt only to then fail again when the next extreme weather event comes through, so we're going to have to really think carefully about that.

"I think over several decades there's been an underinvestment in our core infrastructure: roading, rail, power supply, telecommunications, you name it ... that's something that we're going to have to really continue to ramp up our efforts on."

Climate resilience is a topic on many minds right now, with the government yet to produce its adaptation legislation which would set out plans for managed retreat, among other things.

Hipkins said managed retreat may sound like an easy term, but in truth it was complex, varied, and difficult.

"We're going to have to look across the country and say 'where are these weaknesses, where are these points of failure, where are the most vulnerable people and homes and businesses and how can we build more resilience'. In some cases it might be relocation, in other cases it's things like stopbank works and flood protection works," he said.

"We've already seen examples of where that's been managed well, and we've got lessons to learn from each of those experiences as well, but we are going to have to think about where we build things.

"We had a power station in Hawke's Bay for example that was effectively in a gully that got flooded and it then took a long time to regain access to - and at the moment there's a bypass running past it because they just haven't been able to rebuild it already."

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