Cyclone Gabrielle: Red-zoned residents furious as Hastings District Council tries to change buyout rules

Red-zoned residents in Hawke's Bay are furious the Hastings District Council is trying to change its buyout rules - meaning some Cyclone Gabrielle victims will have to pay to demolish their homes.

They say the council is punishing those who paid for good insurance policies.

Esk Valley red-zoned resident Daniel Gale is shocked by the proposed changes.

"The community is absolutely furious," he said.

Cyclone victims advocate Louise Parsons told Newshub the council's decisions are having big impacts on people.

"People need to know how this community is being treated - it's inhumane, it's just not good," she said.

Gary Neal's Pakowhai home was red-zoned in February 2023 and he's considering accepting a buy out offer from Council. 

Cyclone Gabrielle: Red-zoned residents furious as Hastings District Council tries to change buyout rules
Cyclone Gabrielle: Red-zoned residents furious as Hastings District Council tries to change buyout rules
Cyclone Gabrielle: Red-zoned residents furious as Hastings District Council tries to change buyout rules
Photo credit: Gary Neal/Supplied

He's paid insurance on the property for 20 years. His policy covers the replacement value of the house but now the council's looking at charging him for its demolition.

"Why should they take it? Because they've taken our land off us - at least we could have rebuilt where we were," Neal said.

The buy out cost is shared between Government and councils - but not demolition costs, estimated at more than $6 million - that was being covered by council

However, a new report is being presented to Hastings District Council (HDC) on Thursday - recommending changing the policy so the council can recover costs from some property owners towards the cost of demolishing their house.

Up to $50,00 could be sought from about 90 property owners, which would reduce council demolition costs by as much as $2 million. The changes would apply to the uninsured but also the well insured - the reasoning being, "having been well compensated, they should make some contribution to the demolition", the report stated.

"How can they take money off us for having enough insurance to replace our house?" asked Neal.

He's had many offers of help for demolishing his house but had to decline because authorities told him to leave the property as it was.

"Along comes council and says I have to pay for demolition and I've turned down all this help that could have done it for free," Neal said.

Those with more basic insurance that might not have fully covered them won't be required to pay.

"The well insured and the uninsured are being punished while another group of people is being treated differently. No one's happy and it's just another kick in the guts," said Gale. "That's appalling - we've only been given two days notice."

And it's come with no public consultation. 

'Fixing an anomoly'

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazelhurst initially agreed to an interview with Newshub but changed her mind after learning it was about this buyout policy change, saying she'd talk about it after it's been voted on at Thursday's meeting. 

A press release from the HDC said the the change is to "fix an anomaly" in the policy, because it allows owners of fully insured properties to retain a portion of their insurance policies intended to cover the cost of demolishing their flood affected dwelling. 

"We are seeking to strike the right balance between being fair and reasonable to both impacted property owners and ratepayers. We want impacted property owners to have the ability to move on with their lives and establish themselves in safer areas," said council strategy and development group manager Craig Cameron. "We also need to be fair to ratepayers who are helping to fund this important work."

But Gale said the change will hit people in the pocket. 

"Every insurance policy is different, some include demolition costs some don't - it's all individual and they're lumping it together."

'Radio silence'

Residents aren't just disappointed with local Government. Parsons said central Government is nowhere to be seen after campaigning so hard for Hawke's Bay's vote last year.

"The politicians that made these campaign promises need to come see us now and tell us how they're going to deliver them cause there's pretty much radio silence."

Promises such as creating a 'Category 2W' for those in Category 3 who want to stay put -  but with an early flood warning system in place.

That was something National seemed to support when campaigning last year, when then-cyclone spokesperson Chris Penk told Newshub: "The concept of 2W works because we want to understand if people can be made safe using the right warnings, then they should be allowed to remain."

But his colleague, Emergency Management and Recovery Minister Mark Mitchell, appears to have missed that.

"No, I don't think there was any National support for or against it - I think it was just highlighted in a meeting," he said.

A meeting held in July last year, when residents called for a flood warning system.

"We're one year on, so we're just as at risk as we were before the cyclone," said Parsons.