East Coast residents frustrated at delays to receiving clean-up funding boost

It's been almost one year since Cyclone Gabrielle caused widespread devastation on New Zealand's East Coast, but the clean-up is far from over.

To help, the Government has announced a $63 million boost in funding. Of that, $40 million has been allocated for the removal of sediment and debris in Hawke's Bay, while $23.6 million will go towards getting rid of the slash in Tairawhiti.

Residents on the East Coast say while they're grateful, they're frustrated the clean-up has been disrupted by a drip-feeding of funds. 

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon arrived in Hawke's Bay on Sunday to meet cyclone-hit farmers and listen to red-zoned residents' concerns.

"There needs to be more consultation. Nobody apart from the chap who put the yellow sticker on has ever been to the house," one person told him.

Then Luxon jumped in a ute for a tour of the Bearsley's silt-covered orchard - land they've been farming for generations.

"It's been absolutely overwhelming for my family. My dad and my mum have been here 48 years and we were hit, 95 percent of what they had gone. It's just gone," Puketapu grower Paula Bearsley told Newshub.

It's already cost $2m to clean up and she told Luxon the job is far from over.

"On our land, we've got about 100,000 cubes left of silt to move. That's 12,500 truckloads," she said.

But the region's Silt Recovery Taskforce ground to a halt last year when Government funds dried up, leaving jobs unfinished.

"We were meant to have had all this silt and debris taken in December. But unfortunately, the Silt Removal Taskforce has run out of money and is winding down," Esk Valley farmer Donald Crosby told Newshub.

"It's making it really impossible to run a business to be honest, because there are hundreds of people employed by it and all of a sudden they get a phone call that 'oh there's no work until we get more money'."

That money was finally announced on Sunday to the tune of $40m.

"We know that things need to be moving quicker and our job as central Government is to work out what can we be doing to try and accelerate and pick up the pace here. We know that there is an awful lot more to do," Luxon said.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon announcing the funding package.
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon announcing the funding package. Photo credit: Newshub

But Luxon denied it's taken too long to give them extra funding.

"Well it hasn't really, we've been in power just on over two months," Luxon said.

"When you talk to the councils, you'll find they're very pleased the way we've worked with them to actually generate the package they need in order get this work done."

And growers are pleased that silt removal can ramp back up again.

"This funding is fantastic. We can get back up and going and clear this land," Bearsley said.

The establishment of an Ombudsman for cyclone recovery was also confirmed today.

"I'd like to have that closed out and agreement on that in the next month," Emergency Management Minister Mark Mitchell said.

That job done, the next stop was a cyclone volunteer appreciation event.

"I saw amazing stories on my many visits to the region," Luxon told the crowd.

"People who had had personal devastation to their own orchards jumping in helicopters, going off and rescuing others."

Incredible stories that still live on.

So how much silt is actually left to clean up?

There is a heap more to clean up. That $40m will mean about 600,000 more cubic metres of silt and debris can be removed.

There is a lot of rubbish among it - plastic that has come out of orchards, and that silt funding will mean it can be taken through a big machine that spits the rubbish out one side and the clean silt out the other.

The idea is that with this extra funding for silt removal, that finally about another 650 hectares of land might be able to grow crops again and become productive once more.