Government invests $23m into protecting Westport from floods, only half amount councils asked for

Almost $23 million is to be invested in a flood protection programme for Westport.

Parts of the town have been repeatedly flooded and local councils are disappointed they're getting only half of the amount they asked for. 

Moving back home had been 14 months in the making for Jim and Diane McKinley.

The pair were forced to live in a tiny home after flooding destroyed everything they had.

"What we went through with the flood it was absolutely dynamite, it was unbelievable. I wouldn't wish it on anyone," Diane said.

Together with their dog Patch, they've been able to move back in with new carpet, walls and a lick of paint.

"Couldn't believe it and they told me they were going to paint this place white so I said 'oh looks like I'm going to live at the White House'," Jim said.

The Buller River is the biggest risk to Westport.

The Government has chipped in with $22.9 million to help design and build flood protection - but it wasn't everything councils asked for.

"No, it isn't. We've got to work through a process to make sure we are investing in the things we should be investing in straight away," Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said.

And some locals feel like they haven't been heard.

"They haven't asked us what we want, they're just telling us," one resident said during Hipkins' press conference.

"That's probably a matter for the local council rather than the Government," Hipkins replied.

Local councils and iwi put forward a $54 million case last year, asking the Government to pay for the majority of it.

"It's an excellent start. The community have been waiting patiently and waiting for some certainty," Buller District Mayor Jamie Cleine said.

The wall is expected to cover 18km of the Buller River.

"It's not as high as a lot of people think," West Coast Regional Council deputy chairman Brett Cummings said.

"It's going to be contoured and moulded and planted and all the rest of it, very similar to the Greymouth stopbanks."

Westport has been battered by mother nature. The July 2021 and February 2022 storms were both described as "one in 100-year" events that happened within seven months.

The town is having to survive with makeshift protection measures such as a mountain of gravel built up before the February floods last year, acting as a stopbank protecting homes on one side from the Buller River.

Funding will also support relocating growth to higher ground. 

"Without protection, the risk today is the same as it was in July 2021 and I think that's what is playing on everybody's minds," Cleine said.

Flood walls are coming, which is a welcome sign for Westport.