Northlanders urged to save their emergency services from funding cuts by regional council

One of the country's busiest rescue helicopter services and others who save lives in Northland are sounding an SOS after learning their regional council is planning to pull their funding.

The Northland Regional Council has just released a consultation document on its draft Long Term Plan, calling for public feedback with a deadline of April 19.

It's proposing to scrap its $1 million Emergency Services Fund which helps fund organisations like the Northern Rescue Helicopter, St John Surf Lifesaving Northern, and Far North Radio.

The Northland Rescue Helicopter service relies on donations and fundraising for half the $1.2m it needs to cover the basic cost of operations - the remaining $535,000 is covered by the council's fund.

"This is not a reduction, it's a complete withdrawal of funds. It is essentially putting a blade through the community funding for the helicopter and other services that are also saving lives," said Northern Rescue Helicopter Trust chair Paul Ahlers.

The Northland Regional Council collects $12 per household a year, which equates to $1 per household a month, to fund the region's emergency services through the rating system.

Other organisations set to lose out: 

  • Northland's rescue helicopter service ($535,000 per year) 
  • Surf Life Saving Northern Region ($224,000 per year) 
  • St Johns Northern Region ($90,000 per year) 
  • Coastguard Northern Region ($84,000 per year) 
  • Northland & Far North Search and Rescue ($30,000 per year) 
  • Far North Radio and Sea Rescue ($9000 per year)

A spokesman for the Northland Regional Council said it needs to have "an increased focus on core business to keep rates down, and emergency services are not core business".

Far North Radio and Sea Rescue president Annette Hall, who provides round-the-clock maritime assistance to boaties across the region, was stunned to learn of the proposal to end the fund on June 30. 

"We were formed in 1947 by a family in Awanui to provide a marine radio service and have evolved into a vital community service logging over 18,000 calls per year. How about Far North Radio ceases to exist from 30th June 2024?" asked Hall. 

Surf Lifesaving Northern Region said "without that funding next season will be incredibly challenging and likely we will see an uptick in statistics". 

General manager Zac Franich said the Council's Emergency Services Fund funds up to 90 percent of paid lifeguard service within the Northland region.

"That equates to 195 days of paid lifeguards over our busiest periods. If we were to lose that funding that would limit our paid lifeguard service to just 30 days across six locations." 

The Regional Council's move comes just seven months after a Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) report into the Enchanter fishing tragedy in the Far North which killed five. 

TAIC called for big changes to NZ's search and rescue sector. 

It found as a country New Zealand is not prepared for major multi-casualty accidents, and that lives may be lost if responses are inadequate or inefficient.   

"This is a call to action," said Ahlers, who is asking Northlanders to make a public submission before April 19. 

"We know how hard things are for Northland households at the moment, but we would urge you to support (at the very least) a continuation of what you're currently giving to help fund rescue services in your community," he added.

To make a submission to the Northland Regional Council and have your voice count, go to