Nelson floods: Government agrees to buyout deal with council

8:42 am on 1 September 2023
Mud and debris behind Andy Kenton's house following the 2022 August floods.

Mud and debris behind Andy Kenton's house following the August 2022 floods. Photo: Supplied / Andy Kenton

A year on from the disastrous Nelson floods, owners of wrecked, unliveable homes are now being offered a buyout deal similar to the one for Cyclone Gabrielle victims.

The city council has identified 14 households where the landslide risk was too high for people to return to their homes, but too expensive to fix.

Cyclone Recovery Minister Grant Robertson said the government had agreed to contribute 50 percent of the total cost of the buyout, around $6 million, with the council asked to pick up the other half.

The government had also offered further financial support to the dozens of families whose homes were yellow-stickered and who remained in acute hardship, paying both rent and a mortgage.

Geoff Moffett's home was red-stickered during the heavy rain, deemed unsafe to return to after tonnes of debris inundated properties.

Moffett previously told RNZ that he and his partner felt they were in the same position as many people after Cyclone Gabrielle, with a home that was not safe to live in and remediation work that was unaffordable.

He said the news that the government were willing to strike a buyout deal with the Nelson City Council was amazing.

"We are absolutely stunned and overwhelmed."

Julie Ambrose and Geoff Moffett with the exposed slope behind their home.

Julie Ambrose and Geoff Moffett with the exposed slope behind their home. Photo: RNZ / Samantha Gee

"With the announcement in the North Island about relief for flood victims of [Cyclone] Gabrielle and the Auckland anniversary storms - and we don't begrudge them at all, in fact we think it's fantastic - but we've always felt that Nelson deserved to be treated as fairly by the government," Moffett told Morning Report.

Down the road, Andy Kenton whose home was also red-stickered said he was waiting to hear what the council had to say about the matter, but that the announcement was encouraging after what had been a difficult year with very little communication.

Nelson Mayor Nick Smith said the council had been clear that it could not afford to buy out affected properties without support and he wrote to the government in July, seeking financial assistance.

Nelson City Council will vote on whether to meet the remaining 50 percent of the buyout costs at its next meeting on 14 September, but Smith said he was confident.

"It is true that that is a hit for the ratepayer, but frankly, I see no other way out and so I am confident I'll be able to persuade my council colleagues for support."

He said the announcement would provide relief to the small number of families who had been in limbo land for the last year.

"I'm a bit frustrated that it has taken the length that it has, but I'm actually just relieved that we have now got a pathway forward for the full recovery from our storm last August."

Nelson MP Rachel Boyack said affected residents had been calling on the government for some time for certainty, and the announcement would enable them to move forward.

"A number of members of the community in Nelson have moved on from the floods, but there are a small group of people who haven't been able to move on and it has been a big piece of work between the council and the government to look at what is needed on the ground."

She acknowledged it had been a long wait for many residents to get answers.

"Things have moved a lot quicker than in previous events, but I absolutely acknowledge that for people, a year is an extraordinarily long time and we want to keep working to make sure we can work through these processes in the future, as fast as we possibly can."

Part of the challenge had been assessing what was needed and geotech reports on some of the properties had only recently been received, she told Morning Report.

"The information has ebbed and flowed a bit. At times we've been told it was only going to be one or two properties that might need a buyout so what we've had to do is make sure we had that full information."

Boyack said she was grateful to the officials and elected members who had worked hard to find a solution, but also to the members of the community who had been vocal about their needs, which had helped to put this package together.

Andy and Simone Kenton's home was red-stickered after the August floods, deemed not safe to live in due to landslide risk.

"We have a property that's probably got a valuation of about $1.35m, and yet to remove the risk by doing the repair on the bank needed for red placard removal was going to cost about $4.5m to shotcrete the wall and pin it at the top and that just wasn't viable."

They have received a payout of less than $300,000 from insurance and EQC, which was not enough to buy another home with.

They had been hopeful of government support - but news of the buyout deal still came as a surprise.

Kenton said insurance and EQC covered damage to property, but not risk to it and the legislation needed to change to reflect that.

"Most people pay their insurance, and their EQC levies as part of that, and go about their business thinking they are covered for all eventualities when in actual fact, you aren't, and you don't find that out until well into the process."

Nearby, Geoff Moffett and Julie Ambrose's home is also red stickered, and the couple said the news brought some "tremendous relief".

"We've had a hellish 12 months in all respects, not just being forced out of our home but just the frustrations of trying to get insurance, EQC, our driveway cleared, all the debris removed has been a process in itself and every step seems to have been difficult really, the whole process has been quite trying," Moffett said.

He hoped their home was among those 14 that are eligible for a buyout.

"We still have some way to go yet of course, the council has to agree to the buyout and its contribution so we're hoping that will happen, if so, yes we would expect to be amongst those properties that would qualify."

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