Cyclone Gabrielle: Hawke's Bay homeowners outraged at proposal they pay council back for demolition costs

4:36 pm on 1 February 2024
Esk Valley on 20 February following Cyclone Gabrielle.

Esk Valley on 20 February following Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo: RNZ/ Nick Monro

A Hawke's Bay resident who could be asked to cough up some of the cost of demolishing his cyclone-wrecked home says he has nothing left to give.

Hastings District Council (HDC) is considering enforcing a contribution towards demolition costs, after realising some homeowners received insurance payouts that exceeded the market value of their properties - and included cover for demolition.

The estimated $8 million demolition cost currently falls solely on ratepayers, which the paper before council's Thursday meeting suggested was unfair.

"The proposal is to prevent the owner being paid for demolition but the council undertaking the demolition at no cost to the owner," it said.

That would claw back up to $2m for council - around $20,000 to $30,000 per property, depending on its size.

But some homeowners were furious. In an emotional address to council, Eskdale resident Dan Gale said the community was blindsided.

"We are tired, frustrated and angry as HDC tell us one thing, do another, and shift the goalposts on people who have already lost so much."

Although some had received a "full" insurance payout, that did not mean they had enough money to replace what was lost, he argued.

People were outraged at the suggestion they were benefiting from excess cash or "double dipping", he said.

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

"There are no winners in this situation. As one of our residents said, we have paid with everything we have, and some have even paid with their life, how much more contribution do you want? Come on, there is nothing left to contribute."

The timing of the proposal was a kick in the teeth with the anniversary of the cyclone just around the corner and emotions running high, he said.

"People are hanging on by a thread. People are suffering with depression, marriage break-ups, serious health issues and suicide, due to the stress of the cyclone and this drawn-out process."

But not all affected homeowners shared the same view, the council's voluntary buyout office operations manager David Elliott told the meeting.

"Most of the owners who had offers understood, and were a bit grumbly but reasonably supportive - I would say that would be about 50 percent."

Some councillors argued it was unfair to put the burden on ratepayers, who were already stumping up $50m for the cyclone recovery.

"Unfortunately, if insurance is covering the cost of demolition, I cannot in good faith pass those costs on to those people," councillor Wendy Schollum said.

But it was also unfair to change the policy homeowners had already agreed to, other councillors argued.

A potential compromise was raised by councillor Alwyn Corban - that only homeowners whose insurers had specifically covered demolition costs be asked to contribute. But that never made it to a vote, with the council instead deciding it needed more information from officers before it made a decision.

"We need to do some more work on this, we're not going to adopt a policy on the hop and on the fly," said Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst.

The mayor earlier told the meeting she was not finished negotiating with the government.

"I'm not going to give up, with our region's leaders, when the minister of finance arrives here on the 16th of February, to see if we can seek some more funding to help our most impacted communities recover and get on with their lives successfully."

Napier City Council would also consider the same amendment to its voluntary buyout policy in March.

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