8 May 2015

No recovery package for Westport - Govt

4:27 pm on 8 May 2015

The Government says it will not commit to an economic recovery package for Westport despite more major job cuts at Solid Energy's Stockton Mine, north of the town.

Workers attend today's meeting at the Stockton mine.

Workers attend yesterday's meeting at Stockton Mine near Westport. Photo: RNZ / Georgina Stylianou

Solid Energy has announced a further 113 redundancies at the coal mine, which it said was losing more than $1 million a month.

In an earlier round of job cuts last year, 184 mine workers lost their jobs.

Next year, 120 jobs will also be lost when cement company Holcim closes its West Coast manufacturing plant.

Development West Coast chairman John Sturgeon said Westport was struggling to stay afloat.

"It's a dying town, all right. No doubt about that, it's a shame. Some of these people have been there all their lives and made great contributions to the Buller district. It's not good."

Mr Sturgeon said he did not know what the answer was for Westport.

Buller District Mayor Gary Howard said there were not enough jobs to absorb the new redundancies - and Westport would need help to expand its economy.

Finance Minister, Bill English was asked today whether the Government was considering a financial package for the region.

"No, we haven't been considering that," he said. "But, for the workforce affected, the company has been doing a good job of doing what it can to support them."

The MP for the West Coast, Labour's Damien O'Connor, said it was time for the Government to meet with the region's mayors and talk about a plan for the Coast.

"People are not unrealistic down there. They know there's not huge money sloshing around," he said.

"But, you know, the Government should commit. There's billions going into Auckland. They could commit a few million dollars to infrastructure projects on the West Coast and make a huge difference for job opportunities down there tomorrow."

He said the West Coast had a great future, but it needed some help to build up its resilience.

Steven Joyce talks about Sky City deal with the Government.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce - pictured at Parliament (file photo) Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said the Government was helping the region by encouraging investment in other areas, such as fishing and tourism.

"We're doing that both directly in terms of NZTE encouraging investment but also in terms of supporting infrastructure like the roading network on the Coast; we're replacing some of the older single-lane bridges with double-lane bridges."

Mr Joyce suggested the tourism industry could provide jobs for some of the people made redundant by Solid Energy.

Tourism West Coast chief executive Jim Little said tourism's potential for growth was huge - but the agency's biggest problem is that it gets some of the lowest funding in the country for promotion.

He said a survey of all regional tourism organisations last year showed the West Coast has the fifth highest number of visitors but is 26th when it comes to funding.

Mr Little said the agency currently has a bid in with the West Coast Development Charitable Trust for more funding.

Meanwhile, Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) West Coast organiser Garth Elliott said he was relieved the Stockton Mine had not closed entirely.

"We've seen Solid Energy on a slippery slide for quite some time now," he said.

"So one has to be an optimist, I suppose. You wake up in the morning and think about the West Coast as a whole - and we actually need that.

"I'm trying to be quite optimistic about the future and hope that prices come right and help the situation out."

New Zealand First leader said the blow of job losses on the West Coast could have been cushioned if the Government dealt with the over-inflated New Zealand dollar.

Mr Peters said all regions were suffering because the currency settings were wrong.

He said the country's export industries were suffering from a massively over-inflated dollar.

Mr Peters said the regions were being hollowed out while the Government placed all its attention on Auckland.

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