2 Mar 2023

Cyclone Gabrielle Recovery Taskforce chair Sir Brian Roche says insurers must be responsible

12:59 pm on 2 March 2023
Rawinia Anderson has mixed feelings to her yellow-stickered family home.

A property in Esk Valley in Hawke's Bay severely damaged by Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Insurance companies remaining in flood-prone regions while simply raising premiums would be an abdication of responsibility, according to the man leading Cyclone Gabrielle recovery efforts.

Cyclone Gabrielle Recovery Taskforce chairperson Sir Brian Roche told Morning Report continuing to insure homes at high-risk of damaging weather events was not an appropriate response.

He said mature conversations needed to take place over what homes can and cannot be built.

"I think that's an abdication of responsibility," he said.

"I think there is going to have to be some quite grown up conversations with various authorities about what is appropriate for the future.

"We do live in a much more climate impacted life and we have to respond to that. Our infrastructure has to respond to that, our insurance industry has to respond to that."

NZTA Chairman Sir Brian Roche

Sir Brian Roche who is chairing the Cyclone Gabrielle Recovery Taskforce. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

His comments come after Tower Insurance said some of the homes worst hit would not be rebuilt, but that it would leave it to government to decide those areas. However, the company said it would remain in those areas prone to damage by future weather events.

Sir Brian said he would get insurance companies together to discuss how best to move forward, give people affected by flooding certainty and achieve the best long-term outcomes.

However, he said the process would be a negotiation balancing interests of the business sector with the common interests of society.

"I do think they have a very important role in restoring this community's wellbeing," he said.

"They have their own interests, we have collective interests. I'm very confident that we are going to reach common ground. They have openly and actively engaged with us to work collaboratively and I take that as a very good sign."

Communities would need to be mindful that there are some areas where it is unlikely properties will be rebuilt, as was the case with the Canterbury earthquakes in 2011, Sir Brian warned.

"We did that in Christchurch in terms of the red stickers. So we're working actively with the insurance companies. ...the major focus at the moment is removal of the silt."

Debris and silt have suffocated prime horticultural land and clogged up drainage systems, particularly in Hawke's Bay. Sir Brian and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins visited the region yesterday to survey damage and talk to locals.

Yesterday, the government also announced terms of reference for the Cyclone Gabrielle Recovery Taskforce. It will focus on bridging locally led recovery plans with the work of the government and the private sector.

Sir Brian said he felt the recovery effort was more responsive to needs than was the case in Christchurch because of regional groups' involvement.

"I think I feel a lot more confident because the local communities are very heavily involved. In Hawke's Bay, for instance, they have their own, as it were, recovery unit. They are working on what the priorities are for that region, and we will engage with them. So we're working very actively with them, as opposed to having a national solution."

He said assessing properties and determining whether to write these off or repair and agree a work plan took time.

"This is not a weekend working bee, getting a few mates around. This is going to be a very significant reinvestment programme," Sir Brian said.

Minister for Cyclone Recovery Grant Robertson announced that a decision on which areas were to be rebuilt or not, would be made within a month. Sir Brian said he hoped that timeframe would be adhered to so people had certainty.

"The level of anxiety, the personal anguish - all of those things we've got to be really empathetic to and respond to it as best we can. But short term solutions have to not compromise or predetermine long-term outcomes."

Those affected in Hawke's Bay had been surprisingly resilient and incredibly committed to the rebuild, he said.

"Hawke's Bay is a very, very productive sector. It's important for New Zealand's food security, it's important for exports. So there's a lot at stake here and so we're actively working now on what they see as their priorities so that we can begin our work programme."

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