The Prime Minister says New Zealand must “get real” about the placement of some of the country’s roads and that some will need to be moved to “be more resilient”.
Chris Hipkins has spent the morning in Tairawhiti, speaking with local officials responding to Cyclone Gabrielle as well as residents and businesses impacted by its destruction.
The roading network has been severely affected in the region and Hipkins said there is no question “we need to look at the resilience of our infrastructure” in the aftermath.
“We need to do that with a much greater sense of urgency I think than we have ever seen before. This weather event has really highlighted that for me. It is going to be expensive.
“It is going to require some really big calls by Government to actually get the things happening that need to happen. We are talking about roading, we are talking telecommunications, we’re talking about electricity and energy.”
Asked if New Zealand needed to rethink some of the road links and whether they’re in the right place, Hipkins responded, “almost certainly”.
“We have already had that conversation around the Coromandel and some of the destruction we’ve seen there with roads that were literally only just reopened, then being washed out again. That is not a sustainable picture,” he said.
“We’ve experienced this in other parts of the country. I think of the Manawatū Gorge, for example. We actually just have to get real about some of the roads and the fact that we are going to have to move some of those roads to places where they can be more resilient.”
These infrastructure projects are incredibly expensive, but Hipkins said the Government would “find a way of doing it”.
“There’s just no question that we can’t continue the way that we have been going. We are going to see more of these types of weather events. So we have to be prepared.
“It might not be here, it might be in other parts of the country. So we’re gonna have to look very closely at how we make sure we’ve got as resilient infrastructure as possible.”
Finance Minister Grant Robertson on Thursday morning said the Government’s spending plans would be affected by the cyclone, but the accounts were in “good shape” to respond.
“New Zealand is in a strong financial position to do so thanks to the Government’s careful and prudent management of the books. The impacts of flooding in Auckland in late January and now Cyclone Gabrielle have yet to be fully known and the Treasury is currently accessing the economic and fiscal impact.
“We know that this is a significant event affecting families and businesses as well as the country’s roads, bridges and energy networks and it will have a sizable impact on the economy.”
National Party leader Christopher Luxon, who remains keen for tax cuts despite the expected costs of Cyclone Gabrielle, said on Wednesday he supports work to improve climate adaptation.
“It’s going to be a multi-decade effort starting from tomorrow of recovery and making sure that infrastructure is resilient,” he said. “It’s going to require bipartisan support because Government is going to come and go over those decades and it’s a very complex issue.”
The Coromandel Peninsula was battered by Cyclone Hale in January, with some key routes damaged and closed.
That includes State Highway 25A, a direct road across the peninsula popular with motorists from Auckland and Waikato. Cyclone Gabrielle has only worsened the state of that road, while also causing landslides along others.
State Highway 3 through the Manawatū Gorge was closed in 2017 following severe weather causing a slip that damaged the road significantly. With unstable rockface and earth around the road, the decision was made to construct another highway over the Ruahine Range. It’s expected to be completed by the end of 2024.
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