28 Nov 2023

Mayors appeal to new minister Mark Mitchell to visit cyclone-hit regions

2:31 pm on 28 November 2023
Destruction caused by Cyclone Gabrielle at the Doggy Farmstay Boarding and Daycare in Esk Valley.

Destruction caused by Cyclone Gabrielle at the Doggy Farmstay Boarding and Daycare in Esk Valley. Photo: Supplied / Katrina Harris

The new emergency management and recovery minister already has an invitation to the East Coast and the region's leaders hope he takes it up before Christmas.

National's Mark Mitchell heads up the new portfolio, which was previously covered by two separate ministers under the Labour government: Kieran McAnulty for emergency management, and Grant Robertson for cyclone recovery.

Mayors in Hawke's Bay and Tai Rāwhiti have urged Mitchell to board a plane quick smart and see for himself the mountain of work that still lies ahead following Cyclone Gabrielle.

Wairoa's Craig Little planned to cut a deal with the minister, who had left his backpack behind after his post-cyclone visit to the town.

"He's gotta pick that up here first, so we won't give that back to him unless he gives us something really good."

Little hoped that "something" was a lot more cash.

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little

Wairoa mayor Craig Little. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Roads were the biggest and most expensive issue, having been battered again by heavy rain and slips over the weekend, he said.

"We've still got probably $150 million spend ahead of us with no money, and we want that 100 percent funded."

"Even if we get 75 percent funded, is what they call our financial assisted rate from Waka Kotahi, that's not enough, we'll just go broke."

Next was $6m to fix up houses for those who are underinsured or uninsured. Of 133 households, only three were back in their homes, Little said.

"I hope that's the first thing Mark's going to do, come to town [and we'll] say 'right, Mark, this is what we need, we need it now'.

"That way we can get some of these people who are really hurting back into their homes. It won't be this Christmas now, it'll probably be the following Christmas."

National Party MP Mark Mitchell

Emergency Management and Recovery Minister Mark Mitchell. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Further up the coast, the two gateways to Gisborne were on the agenda for mayor Rehette Stoltz, who said she had been in "close contact" with Mitchell.

"We need to be confident that State Highway 2 and State Highway 35 are there for our residents, but also for our businesses," Stoltz said.

"We grow a lot of food here in our region, so the rest of New Zealand also rely on us getting that to the rest of New Zealand."

Both roads were constantly closed in bad weather and Stoltz said it was essential that greater resilience was built in.

Leader of the opposition Christopher Luxon has arrived at the CDEM base at the Gisborne District Council, to hear about the response. With him are MPs Simeon Brown and Nicola Willis.  In the pictures he is next to Rehette Stoltz, the mayor (the orange vest)

Gisborne mayor Rehette Stoltz speaks with then-opposition leader Christopher Luxon at the CDEM base at the Gisborne District Council in February, following Cyclone Gabrielle (file image). Photo: RNZ / Kate Green

In Hastings, removing silt and debris from productive horticulture land was top priority, Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said.

There were still 400 outstanding requests, and not enough money to service them all.

"We're grateful that we got $130m from the previous government and that helped us along the way, but we're only halfway through, so we need to carry on with that work and get that land ready again for replanting."

Hazlehurst also wanted to see more people housed in temporary accommodation.

"People are still living with friends and family, and not back in their own properties yet, so we've got a long way to go with housing.

"There's a lot of work to do, and it's really important that we have the opportunity to show the incoming ministers what our needs are, and be aligned with our priorities."

The minister would receive a briefing from the Regional Recovery Agency - which represents all five Hawke's Bay councils - this week.