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Silver Linings

by Suzanne Hansen

Ongoing weather events are destroying our roads and causing inconsistent airport conditions. Events are being cancelled and holiday makers are staying away causing pain for the hospitality and tourism industries. For locals there is ongoing anxiety around services, exports, supplies and freight, medical emergencies, farm viability, resident access and basic peace of mind. Quite simply we are all in a state of apprehension and missing out on what should have been a long, hot summer, while our bureaucrats are scratching their collective heads about their next steps. Thank goodness there are a few silver linings in the form of some of those unsung heroes who are keeping the supplies and services going in the face of extreme adversity. We’ve talked to just a sample of those services and here’s what they have to say about what they are doing.

Kerry Stanley from New World says that the organisation’s experiences with Covid gave them a bootcamp for navigating challenging times. Executing on some solid strategies around stock and ordering levels as a result have made a big difference for New World over this challenging year. He adds that although the weather has been ultra-extreme in the last few weeks, the truth is that the number of road closures have been numerous over the past 12 months. Also, the store continues to deal with with global and NZ supply chain issues similar to all grocery organisations in the country. Luckily the store has an experienced team, and with the lead of purchasing manager Wayne Woolly, who came with Kerry from the Hawkes Bay, they have made some purchasing and stocking decisions over the past four years, that have ensured the consistency of supply. Four years ago, they put in an extra day storeroom built in anticipation of the rapid growth of the town, to provide extra stock in the instance of any coverage issues. Kerry maintains that Whitianga is constantly underestimated by government and national organisations as a little holiday destination when in fact it has a growing year-round population, with infrastructure that is not keeping pace. NW Whitianga actually carries the largest days of stock of any New World in the North Island, a fact that many do not appreciate. Although fresh produce can be an issue when the roads are closed, the store has abundant staples (even eggs), as a result of the good relationships with local suppliers as well as their manual attention to ordering decisions. Kerry also calls out their transport teams, specifically Coromandel Couriers and Mainfreight as amazingly supportive. Although with our dire road situation, there will still be supply issues, Kerry is still aiming to provide an average of 9 out 10 items on any shopping list.

Coastal Bins, (the red ones) who service Hauraki, Northern Waikato and Coromandel districts, have two to three trucks on the Eastern Seaboard servicing from Whangapoa all the way to Waihi Beach. Managing Director, Murray Bain says that every day is a new plan, and new adventure, created on the fly at 5.00 am, based on new information and new roading conditions for their drivers. For Coastal driver Chris Allen, who services our part of Whitianga, and who is based in Tairua, the slips and road closures have added at least 4 hours to his day. So far Chris and the drivers have got through, with little disruption to services, and Coastal Bins is committed to this continuity. Murray asks simply that customers get their bins out by 7.30 am in the future, so that they don’t risk having to backtrack to service customers.

Geoff Brown from Mercury Bay Pharmacy says that logistically there have been many problems with continuous out of stocks from most of our suppliers ever since covid (supply not delivery) and as a result they have been carrying larger amounts of stock of crucial items in the dispensary and retail in our shop in general. They are stocking even larger amounts (3 months +) of stock that seems to cyclically go out of stock so that they don't run out. The pharmacy are doing larger orders ahead of the weather warnings but delivery problems have now been added to the list of challenges, particularly refrigerated stock, which cannot sit in depots for lengthy periods. Their key strategy is be organised and have a plan and they call out NZ Couriers as doing a great job.

An organisation which is gearing up for the aftermath of the recent weather events is Whitianga Social Services. The effects of the past few months of weather inundation mean that businesses will be hard hit, costs of living will undoubtedly increase particularly affecting the elderly and lower paid workers. Farmers and food growers will be greatly distressed for their livelihoods and there is still the residual aftermath of Covid, causing general anxiety. Manager, Sheryll FitzPatrick believes that the current circumstances call for government to provide an emergency services relief package to the Mercury Bay, as she considers our community to be one of the worst-hit in the country. Meanwhile Social Services is gearing up with trained counselling, budgeting help, food banks, navigation aide through WINZ and insurance administration and a whole list of services. Sheryll’s message is to come see Whitianga Social Services if you are under stress in any way. It is not until they know what your situation is, that they can pull out all that is needed to assist. Sheryll also calls out the wider community as being incredibly supportive and generous with essential foods, donations and dollars.

John Freer, Manager of Goldfields Mall in Thames and resident of Onemana can see the impact of the roading issues from both sides of the Peninsula. Commenting from a Thames business perspective he says that it is still hard to judge what the actual impact with be. Of course, the holiday peaks are not happening currently, and the future of Thames as a service centre for the Eastern Seaboard and Coromandel town is under threat for the retail chains in town as well as the medical services. He adds that there could likely be pressure on Thames businesses as a result of the increased travel time brought on by the road closures. If travel time to services has increased substantially due to the diversions, what is to stop people continuing on to other larger service centres like Tauranga or Hamilton?

John adds that we need to take a realistic approach to our current roading situation. We have suffered unprecedented weather events and we need to rectify what we can to open up travel around the peninsula, as fast as we can. Meanwhile he is hoping that after years of talking this unprecedented weather event might have a positive effect by illustrating the dire situation on our roading infrastructure. He adds that those who provide the funding on a national basis don’t apparently realise the amount of traffic on our roads and its time these matters were solved. Government has to stump up the money because TCDC rate payers cannot afford to fix this. Watch this space.

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