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Good news - A recovery lead

From TCDC’s newsletter, Monday 13 March

“As of this week, former Auckland Council Chief Executive Stephen Town has been appointed as Recovery Lead to support our district as we move away from the immediate response from the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle. Stephen starts with us this week and is contracted to work two days a week until the end of the year.

Recovery will extend beyond just restoring physical assets or providing welfare services and will be addressed in a coordinated and collaborative way working with stakeholders, iwi and regional and central government agencies. However, there are two major areas of focus:

1. Working with Waka Kotahi/NZTA to develop and implement a Transport Plan for the immediate, short and long term connectivity of our network and how other modes of transport can be used.

2. Addressing how our Council can deal with disposal of rubbish and recycling and commercial waste from off the district.

3. Programme leadership of our other Recovery actions.

Stephen is semi-retired with a home in Whangamatā. He saw the role and with his local government experience, previous work with NZTA/Waka Kotahi and having been through disaster recovery in previous roles wanted to offer his skill-set and support. “We’re extremely fortunate to have someone of Stephen’s calibre and expertise to help us with our recovery, which will involve working with the government and other agencies,” says Aileen Lawrie, our Council’s Chief Executive.

Themes that wont go away

By Pauline Stewart

The theme of recovery and development will be with us for some time. It is no secret that infrastructure expenditure, which must include significant maintenance projects, has just not had the attention of any government in the Coromandel region for many years. All political parties need to share the responsibility for not providing a major tourist destination with proper transport routes and the means to sustain improvement. The one-lane bridges, which are part of the the State Highway network, although rustic and nostalgic to a very few of us, reflect in Leigh Hopper’s words, “a systemic waning in terms of capital development and a declining prosperity through a loss of productivity in New Zealand.” Leigh adds, “We are more computerised and digitised; we have visionary people at the forefront of development; but our productivity has not increased. The current government (but they cannot bear all of the responsibility) has increased the public sector workforce by 14,000. It is simply out of balance. Outcomes are so far behind expenditure and promises of intentions.”

On February 7, the Informer wrote, “Forget the ‘uninhabitable’ comment regarding access by road (made through the media about the damage to SH25A and other slips across the Coromandel network); the culture of thinking about possibilities regarding transport options needs now to be addressed by everyone.” This was before Cyclone Gabrielle. There would be no change in rhetoric required a week later after Cyclone Gabrielle.

Now there is little energy for blaming and castigating past governments or even present ones. There are ample policies and plans from TCDC and Waikato Regional Council already published (many not readily available in print but clearly accessible online) which provide guidelines and are not legislative especially with the current situation of crises that need to be addressed properly but also more quickly than NZ is used to. We have a time of opportunity and it is a short time.

Will this short time be one where our communities - short of funds but wealthy in experience and knowledge - will not only be heard but will have freedom to lay their options for solutions on the table at the levels of community board, TCDC, WRC and at Central Government level?

I am hopeful that this new appointment of Stephen Town will not just mean an extra person in the high-end public sector but someone who can enable the serious consideration of input from local communities working to improve not just the level of sustainability of their home patch but also will give of their best resources and time to ensure the development of infrastructure of their Peninsula. For most residents of the Coromandel, managed retreat is a totally last option. For many, it won’t be considered at all. This alone makes us neighbours of millions of people across this globe who have no option but to stay in their sea level home and build a possible and hopeful future. There are solutions and connections that have not yet been thought of for our greatest current challenges.

Thames Coromandel District Council’s newsletter of Friday, 10 March states: “The government knows that the closure of SH25A (for up to a year at least) and disruptions to our local roading networks, are a significant blow. It’s aware of the impact of increasing driving times and fuel costs for many of us, along with the additional pressure on our roads. Financial support and assistance are starting to be committed to our district - but it won’t pay for everything we need to get fixed.” Mayor Len Salt wrote recently,

“I know there is a level of anxiety around the district about our vulnerability on a daily basis to weather events and the sustainability of our business community. We’ve put a lot of effort into immediate support for our business community. We’re not just repairing our damaged roads and State Highway, we’re looking at a Transport Plan which includes what air and sea links can be put into place to keep supply lines open.” These words are a good beginning to addressing an ongoing crisis. They do not lack care, empathy or wisdom. With time, and it is short, this “we” should come to mean the ratepayers and tenants and new migrants, as well as the public sector employed to serve the people and those elected to serve.

Toby Adams, Mayor of Hauraki District Council, is quoted, “If we didn’t have the stop banks where they currently sit now, the town would’ve been under water (Flood protection performed ‘magically’).” There was a lot of long-term planning and expensive investment before any 'magic' occurred. Paeroa has had devastating floods in the past, and the engineers - and a good deal of expense - have saved another sad repeat in 2023. The same is true of the Waterways in Whitianga. The Waterways Development also worked its 'magic' for the township during Cyclone Hale and Cyclone Gabrielle - careful long term entreprenurial planning, diligent engineering by private enterprise.

This next period, “we” - meaning all of us - will need to ensure we can live with the options that will be decided on and share in the outcomes they create. The future is not certain, and never will be, but “We’ are capable of preparing well and working together for the things we believe in.

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