Cyclone Gabrielle: Kiri Allan says battered Tairāwhiti will have to be rebuilt 'fit for purpose'

  • 20/02/2023

East Coast MP Kiri Allan says the cyclone-hit region of Tairāwhiti will be rebuilt "fit for purpose", acknowledging that "climate change is right here at our door".

Cabinet on Monday will consider initial support measures for businesses and communities severely impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle last week. 

Allan told AM there will also be "longer-term discussions around critical infrastructure".

"Here in Gisborne, one of our main State Highways is out and the local roading network has been pretty substantively impacted," she said. "That's going to cost a lot of money and we're under no illusion about what that will mean." 

At a press conference on Sunday evening, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said "tough calls" will have to be made as New Zealand builds back from the cyclone's devastation. Last week, he said the country needed to "get real" about the placement of some roads.

Allan said Cyclone Gabrielle was just the latest in a string of major weather events to batter the Tairāwhiti region and it's clear "climate change is right here at our door". 

"We need to be having serious discussions as communities around what adaptation measures are required to ensure that we get through this," she said. 

"So when we're looking at rebuilding, it's not rebuilding the status quo, it's rebuilding fit for purpose in an environment that's been significantly disrupted."

She said connectivity remains front of mind and communities would be reconnected. But managed retreat needs to be part of the discussion, she said.

"There are some bigger calls to be made about how we rebuild. Every single day… I'm inundated with members from, whether they be iwi, coastal communities, inland communities that have been impacted, engineers etc. Everybody's really turning their mind to the task of what rebuilding better looks like."

The central Government's role will be to assess the cost of the rebuild and then ensure the right people are in the room for "planning effectively for what our new environments are like", she said.

The MP said the region's industries have been "critically impacted".

"We're going to need immediate emergency response and, of course, a much longer thought-through support, financial and otherwise, for our businesses that have been impacted," Allan said. 

"We've got the mayoral relief fund that's enabled swift removal of silt and the likes, secondly, there's an established business hub in regions like here in Tairāwhiti that are providing taskforce green assistance, that's been supported by those initiatives of $4 million. That's immediate release funds for the primary sectors in particular."

The Government's unlikely to be able to put a dollar figure on the rebuild cost for some time, but it's expected it will be "significant", as Treasury chief executive Dr Caralee McLiesh said last week.

"The full economic and financial cost will take some time to realise," she said. "We know the biggest economic costs are going to be in the form of lost capital and lost economic opportunity."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the recovery will affect the Government's spending plans, but the accounts are in "good shape" to respond. Private insurers will also contribute. 

Christoph Schumacher, Professor of Innovation and Economics at Massey University, told Newshub the hit to the economy could be between $10 to $20 billion