Auckland deputy mayor Desley Simpson says mistakes made in rates approach to owners of red-stickered homes

Deputy mayor Desley Simpson said it was unfortunate timing that an automatic rates notice went out to homeowners.
Deputy mayor Desley Simpson said it was unfortunate timing that an automatic rates notice went out to homeowners. Photo credit: Via RNZ


Auckland Council's rates approach to owners of red-stickered properties was a mistake that needs to be fixed, Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson says.

Red-stickered homeowners in Auckland who have fallen behind on paying their rates will not face any penalties.

But deputy mayor Desley Simpson said it was unfortunate timing that an automatic rates notice went out to homeowners, when some had been forced to leave their properties because of damage from Cyclone Gabrielle last month.

She said the grants system meant to reimburse ratespayers who had their homes red-stickered had not worked properly.

Simpson added it was her expectation full rates relief would be given to those put out of their homes, when Auckland Council met to discuss the response under emergency.

She told Morning Report a special fund designed to simultaneously reimburse ratespayers for rates payments, which she had believed fair and reasonable, had caused distress and confusion.

The council did not operate a remission of rates, but provided support through grants to reimburse payments instead.

Simpson said people were not getting responses in "a timely manner".

Council staff had also been asked to ring around those affected to talk through their options.

"What I've found out from some people is in the course of doing that they've had difficulty in the response from council around the fact that their fund is oversubscribed. They get a message saying 'we don't know when we'll be able to come back to you'.

"The problem was that they weren't getting an instant answer to say, 'you've applied, your application was successful. And here's the money'.

"They weren't getting that at the same time. The simple thing is we needed to have a meeting, staff need to come in and say, 'look in a disaster like this, you have an option, and that is you do nothing until we've sorted this out'. We didn't do that and that was a mistake, in my opinion."

She said council would discuss the policy issue in light of the failure.

"I thought talking to the relevant staff involved that we had found a way to be very kind and generous how we help these people. It wasn't working as I had thought. And we've got to fix that, end of story."

Relief for the owners of yellow stickered houses, where residents may live in part of that property, was another issue that would be discussed at the next council meeting.

Simpson said those unable to live in their homes should get full relief and that this was a "pretty reasonable expectation" when it came up at council.

She added a complicating factor was people could also get help from the Ministry of Social Development for accommodation costs, food, and other needs.

"The right hand and the left hand does have to get together, figure out what that instant emergency response is and have one point of access, which is why we were ringing everybody to take people through the process," she said.

Road access a further stresser

Adding to the headache for residents of Muriwai and other west Auckland coastal communities such as Piha and Karekare is the need to show proof of residency to get through road cordons.

Access out west is still problematic because of slips and the threat of slips.

Auckland Transport chief engineer Murray Burt told Morning Report major access routes into places like Karekare would be partially opened within weeks, but the full two-lane access would likely take months.

He said there were 1300 slips on roads across Auckland during the storm events, resulting in 130 road closures. The majority of these slips had been cleared, with 32 road closures remaining in Auckland.

Many of these were on the north and west of the region. Access to Muriwai is restricted to residents, trades vehicles and emergency service vehicles and all roads are open except parts of Motutara Rd and the main crescent.

"The only sections of Muriwai that are closed are due to the geotechnical instability around those heavily hit areas. Once Auckland Emergency Management completes their geological geotechnical assessments, then we are quickly able to go in and reopen those roads," he said.

In Karekare the road access is not as open and damage is significant.

"Karekare Road was one of the hardest hit areas on the west coast," he said.

"There's two accesses through, Lone Kauri Road and Karekare Rd. It's a loop and on the loop, there's 15 major slip sites across it. In some areas, the road has narrowed right down to less than two metres, with a vertical sheer drop on one side and unstable material on the upside. And some of those slips are quite complex."

That road is closed, with pedestrian access only, but there are reports of people driving through regardless.

"We're definitely not encouraging vehicles to traverse that road," he said.

Locals have been frustrated with what they say is a lack of communication over vehicle access and how long it may take to open the road.

"A lot of work is actually going on down there," he said.

"The immediate, easy-to-access slips have been cleared. Geotechnical engineers have been working this week to do assessments. We're expecting to receive a report today that will give us some guidance on what we can do to reopen single lane Lane access down to Karekare and I believe that there's some quite positive results in that report."

He said the report would be received today and hopefully council would have more answers for residents this evening.

A single lane could be open within weeks, he added.

"In terms of full access with double lanes, that will be some time away as these slips are significant. That will take a long time to rebuild."

In Piha and around Scenic Drive there were a number of significant and major slips, which geotechnical engineers were looking at.

"We're making progress on the elevation slip, which is the key access one for the Piha community. There's been geotechnical drilling this week to understand the nature of the slip and how we can remediate that. We're looking to open up single line access through elevation, but for residents only and that will be imminent."