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Rattling the Chains - Planning, priorities and pitching in

CHB Community Conversations

First up – thank you. Thank you to all those who came along to a local Community Conversation to talk Cyclone Gabrielle recovery, and to those who took time to give feedback online. If you’ve missed this first round of recovery planning, there will be more opportunities to have your say. In particular, there will be more local conversations on how we prioritise which roads, which catchments, and which stormwater areas get short-term focus. And we will continue to build the bigger picture issues of where and how we live, work and play to thrive in the future. 

The energy and commitment to renewal and rebuilding we’ve seen since February has been true local leadership in action. With your feedback you’ve helped shape our first recovery plan for Central Hawke’s Bay, and this will become part of wider regional planning.   

In this first round of conversations, when we asked what the priorities for recovery should include, some major themes emerged: 

Planning for future severe weather events was, unsurprisingly, a key priority. As climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of events like Cyclone Gabrielle, we will need to consider short-term and long-term solutions. These will include reassessing how we use and protect flood-prone areas. Effective stopbanks and the need to maintain and check on them regularly were mentioned often, as was the need to reassess and improve stormwater systems.   

Stormwater improvements can be as simple as fixing culverts that are too narrow or in the wrong place, or as strategic as improving overall drainage and runoff management measures. Public and private rights and responsibilities relating to stormwater are complex and need to be clearer; a sustainable and effective stormwater management system benefits everyone.   

While forestry slash wasn’t as big a problem for us here as it was for our regional neighbours, river debris and gravel build-ups were. Silt and gravel swept across and through farms and homes as rivers burst their banks or in the case of the Waipawa River, changed course entirely. Our Hawke’s Bay Regional Council manages policy and work in this area and has been with us in every community conversation over the last few weeks. Overlaid with constraints on gravel extraction due to the Chilean Needle Grass pest, the high gravel levels around Waipawa, Waipukurau and down to Patangata cause many concerns and frustrations and are a clear area to prioritise further work. 

With over a thousand kilometres of roads across our network and parts of it already badly damaged by the storms of 2022, even before Cyclone Gabrielle we were facing a huge roading repair bill of around $50 million. That repair bill, post-cyclone, has now tripled. Our challenge will not only be funding this huge cost, but also – with the help of your local knowledge – prioritising and planning where we rebuild, where we repair and where we regroup. In the meantime, you’ll have seen urgent roading repairs already in progress because some of this work can’t wait. Thanks to some very hard work by locals, our roading team and contractors, light vehicle access is now possible to all parts of the district, although heavy truck restrictions, single lanes and some detours are still necessary and will be for some time. Thanks for the understanding from rural residents who are working with us on this. 

Housing had already been identified as one of Council’s top priorities for the three-year term ahead, and now this priority takes on a more urgent focus. There was an immediate housing need following the cyclone in an already scarce rental market. As part of our immediate recovery response, displaced whānau have been rehoused through winter while post-Cyclone repairs are completed. Long-term, you’ve told us that risk management for new housing developments is crucial – both where and how they’re built. While the government funding for infrastructure for the Waipukurau South Growth Precinct will deliver up to 950 new homes for Central Hawke’s Bay, that exciting project is still at an early stage, but will serve as a flagship and a model for housing our people in a post-cyclone district. 

Cellphone, internet and phone connectivity has been a talking point at most meetings. Floods and slips had damaged power networks around the North Island, which in turn affected cellphone towers. While some in the district kept cellphone coverage, many did not. Some were cut off entirely from family, emergency services and news coverage. Disastrously, some fire and emergency services were cut off from their central control rooms by the same outage, so in Central Hawke’s Bay reverted to their former locally based model and worked directly with our own emergency management centre.  

At Central Hawke's Bay we have our own incident team to respond locally to emergencies, reporting into the Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence Emergency Coordination Centre. An independent review into the Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence response is underway, and we welcome this. It’s important to ensure we all continue to learn and improve and are best prepared to support our community.  

I particularly love to hear the answers to the question ‘Did something that happened during Cyclone Gabrielle and its aftermath make you particularly proud of your community, and would you like to tell us about it?’  

Answers to this over and over again across the district have expressed gratitude for neighbours, friends and even strangers who have pitched in to help out – just getting the job done because it needs to be done. Local leadership is all of us, together.  

26 April 2023

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