Cyclone Gabrielle: Tairāwhiti community comes together to talk rebuild

A little over a year after Cyclone Gabrielle devastated much of the Tairāwhiti region, the community has come together to tackle the social and economic issues left in its wake. 

For the first time since the disaster, government officials, local iwi, business, council and community leaders gathered in one room, to discuss solutions and a regional action plan.

"The Tairāwhiti Tomorrow Together Summit is pivotal in developing a workable 'Future Strategy' for our region, where we have significant challenges with social and economic deprivation including health, education, crime, employment and a lack of quality housing," Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz said.

"This is further compounded by our exposure to ongoing severe weather events."

Last year alone, the region had the equivalent of more than 80 percent of Lake Taupō dumped on it.

Local MP Dana Kirkpatrick said it's about more than just repairing what's broken.

"We know we have to fix the roads and the infrastructure and we need to function better in terms of our social outcomes. But the real question is what else, what else can we do."

Leaders from various industries presented new and innovative ideas to speed up the recovery, restore confidence in the business sector and grow the economy.

LeaderBrand CEO Richard Burke told the forum they can't afford to rebuild the region back to its fragile state. 

"Whether it's transport, whether it's water, power, whatever it is... this opportunity we have here now, is to think bigger than that."

Te Tairāwhiti's primary sector accounted for over 18 percent of GDP in 2022. 

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon was unable to attend Friday's hui, but acknowledged by way of video a need for a locally driven response to get the region back on track.

"Often the best thing we can do to grow the economy is to get out of your way so you can take actions that are best for your region," he said.

Other ministers told the community they're unlikely to get everything they ask for so the prioritisation of the region's immediate needs is important. 

Minister for Emergency Management Mark Mitchell said "from a Government perspective around the Cabinet table, it's much better when you can try to agree on as much as you can and have a unified approach".

"That's what really starts to drive change and helps decisions being made down in the capital," he said. 

A year on, Tairāwhiti is finally entering a new phase of the rebuild - one which residents hope will bring longevity for the vulnerable East Coast community.