West Coast gets multimillion-dollar 'immediate shot in the arm' after mass job losses, flood damage

The Government is giving the West Coast a multimillion-dollar "immediate shot in the arm" to fund infrastructure after the tourist region faced mass job losses and flood devastation. 

A grim report in February painted a sobering picture of how COVID-19 has devastated the region due to the border closure. It found that 62 percent of jobs had been lost and 16 percent of businesses had closed. 

The West Coast has also been hard-hit by wild weather. In 2019 the region suffered from one-in-100-year extreme flooding, which led to the Waiho Bridge on State Highway 6 near Franz Josef being washed away. 

To help protect the Franz Josef community and the wider Westland economy, Economic and Regional Development Minister Stuart Nash has announced infrastructure plans to create jobs and boost confidence.  

"The jobs and commercial activity generated by the project will give the local economy an immediate shot in the arm as it recovers from the loss of international tourists following the global COVID19 pandemic," Nash said on Wednesday. 

The first phase involves protecting Franz Josef from the Waiho River through an investment of up to $12.3 million by the Government and local councils to build stop-banks. It will take about 18 months and councils estimate it will provide up to 30 full-time jobs.

"The challenges facing Franz Josef and infrastructure on the coast are massive in scale. The earthquake fault line runs down the town's main street," Nash said. 

"The Waiho River is fed by the melt-waters of the Franz Josef Glacier and carries enormous boulders and rocks down from the mountains when it floods.

"In 2019 the bridge was swept away by a one-in-100 year flood which also caused widespread destruction around Franz Josef, closed SH6 and hurt the town's economy." 

Nash said while NZ Transport Agency-Waka Kotahi rebuilt the bridge in just two-and-a-half weeks, the damage is estimated to have led to an economic loss of up to $50 million for the West Coast.

"The unrelenting forces of nature through earthquakes, floods, and extreme weather events associated with climate change mean this community needs more help than most to plan for its future," Nash said. 

"State Highway 6 is the lifeline that links south Westland to larger towns, ports and rail hubs in the north. It is the path taken by tourists to world-famous destinations in the south such as the Haast wilderness area, Queenstown, Wanaka, Central Otago and Fiordland."

Nash said phase one of the flood project is just the beginning. 

"It is the first step in a staged approach to protecting Franz Josef. Central Government agencies, local government, iwi, businesses and the town's residents will have to be involved in even longer-term planning," he said. 

"We need a bigger plan to protect the town and West Coast's vital infrastructure for decades to come. Government agencies and councils will work alongside the community to deal with these tough issues."