31 Jul 2023

Government reaches deal to share buy-out cost of Hawke's Bay cyclone-damaged houses

5:06 pm on 31 July 2023
Esk Valley on 20 February following Cyclone Gabrielle.

Esk Valley in Hawke's Bay on 20 February, following Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo: RNZ/ Nick Monro

The government has reached a deal to share the cost of buying out cyclone-damaged houses in Hawke's Bay, but it is still not known how it will split the bill with local councils.

The region's five councils will this week hold extraordinary meetings to ratify the offer, which covers category three property buyouts, flood protection and urgent roading projects.

In a statement, Cyclone Recovery Minister Grant Robertson said the package would invite the owners of category three properties "to take up a voluntary buyout allowing them to move on from their devastated residential land".

"Councils will work with individual property owners to determine the details of each offer. There are some complexities to be resolved, particularly where the property includes commercial and residential land uses," he said.

The government had also agreed to contribute to flood protection projects to give some certainty to those property owners whose houses were assessed as category two and to enhance the region's resilience, he said.

Regional council chair Hinewai Ormsby said just how much the government was willing to pay would not be revealed until next week. But she said the percentage split differed across the three funding areas.

The five councils had been told they need to unanimously agree to the offer for it to proceed, or walk away.

But Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise told Checkpoint while her council did not want to jeopardise the offer, she questioned the pressure for all five councils to agree on the deal.

"The cost sharing split was never open for negotiation, we were presented with an offer and the Crown were not prepared to move on that at all," Wise said.

Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise

Napier mayor Kirsten Wise Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"It does make it far more challenging, because different councils benefit in different ways - some of the councils have no property buyouts but then have significantly more requirements in terms of some of the infrastructure investment that we need."

Negotiators for the councils had gone into the discussions determined "to broker a deal ... that met as many of the needs of the five individual councils as we possibly could".

"There's been frustrations along the way and we've just had to put our best foot forward. And there's varying degrees of satisfaction with where that offer has landed."

So far, the only area the councils had negotiated significant gains on were flood mitigation and transport infrastructure, Wise said.

She expected locals to be disappointed at the costs that remained for the community.

"I think our community will struggle with the fact that we have had to enter into a conversation around a cost-sharing approach when you look at the Christchurch earthquake, where those property buyouts were 100 percent Crown funded ... our local ratepayers will be having to partially fund these voluntary buyouts."

Meanwhile, councils in Auckland and Tai Rāwhiti were yet to reach an agreement with the government, despite the government's second deadline passing on Monday.

Robertson said negotiations on cost-sharing agreements with Auckland and Tai Rāwhiti were progressing well and the government hoped to have an agreement with those regions shortly.

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