Residents feel “trapped” by land categorisation in Hawkes Bay

May 22, 2024

Residents feel “trapped” by land categorisation in Hawkes Bay

Many people are trying to return to their red-stickered homes, and some are leaving their yellow-stickered ones. Photo: Rosa Katavich

Hawkes Bay councils are “financially blackmailing” homeowners through land categorisation, claim residents.

Last year’s Cyclone Gabrielle damaged about 3000 houses in the Hawkes Bay area, with 287 properties being designated as red-zone category 3.

But many residents say they can’t follow how the council decides the categorisation of buildings.

Lynn Noanoa says her home was yellow stickered as category 2, despite water levels going 2 metres up in her house.

She says there is “no rhyme nor reason” to the decision.

“The whole system, excuse my language, is fucked.”

Owner of Eskdale Holiday Park Daniel Gale believes the council “just don’t know what they’re talking about".

“Hastings District adopted it [the categorisations] blindly, so there’s many, many problems with the categorisation.”

As his property has been categorised in the red zone, Gale has now been forced to close his holiday park in the Esk Valley and is part of the buy-out scheme.

Gale says he wrote to the councils, as he already has a property level intervention for his Eskdale property, so he should be eligible for a lower category and therefore able to get his business back.

Gale says there’s “nothing voluntary” about the buyouts for category 3 land, and that the buyout should be optional.

“They just went, ‘right, Esk Valley, you’re all red, you’re all cat 3.’”

Noanoa felt there was a lack of communication from the councils and Civil Defence, saying she “hasn’t heard from them” since receiving her yellow sticker.

A Hastings District Council spokesperson explained it hired 10 people as 'connectors' following the cyclone whose work was to include helping with buyouts and aiding those with flooded properties, mental health impacts, and residents needing information.

“At the time of their engagement, category 3 property owners were automatically assigned a connector, with category 2/stickered property owners offered the service should they wish to have that support.

“There have also been widely advertised information drop-in sessions in every community, staffed by connectors and applicable specialists.”

Gale believes that the categorisation process is also hard to understand in nearby Pakowhai.

“They’ve deemed houses on one side of the road safe to live, and on the other side unsafe to live because they were told to draw a line somewhere and randomly decided who was safe and who was not.

“There was a house that was flooded 1.9 metres deep, fifty metres away was another house that was flooded 1.88 deep.

“And they were different categories.

“So, what’s the difference?”

Gale has now bought a new property with only a small section of the land in category 3, with the rest not categorised.

However, he was refused both insurance and building permits, even though their build site is 12 metres away from the red-zoned area.

“The district council refused to answer our questions," he said.

“But they’re like, ‘you can’t get a building permit'."

Gale says the councils are “blindly” using the categories to “cover their asses,” and the insurance companies “are taking it [the categorisations] for a ride.”

However, the HDC spokesperson emphasises that the council is genuinely committed to helping residents recover from the impacts of the cyclone.

“Our teams know that more than a year on, for many people ‘moving on’ is still a way away.

“We encourage anyone who needs help to get in touch with council to find out whether we can assist.”

Listen here to Daniel Gale explain that some people want to stay in the valley, despite the categorisation.

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