15 Dec 2016

English makes first Kaikōura visit as PM

1:51 pm on 15 December 2016

Local businesses in Kaikōura have raised concerns about the government's response to last month's earthquake during Prime Minister Bill English's visit to the town.

Prime Minister Bill English (far right) takes a break at a local cafe in Kaikōura.

Prime Minister Bill English (far right) takes a break at a local cafe in Kaikōura. Photo: Supplied

He was in Kaikōura for his first official engagement, and after meeting whale watch operators he visited a local café for a cappuccino, and called into a cheese shop.

"We want it to be absolutely clear we are re-opening that road as quickly as possible," he told a meeting of around 30 local business owners.

He said the government was being careful about the timing - but it could be up and running within a year.

But once those projects - including a $5 million grant to dredge the harbour - get into gear, it would allow the town to "swing into action," he said.

One farmer disagreed and said the town was being "strangled" because of slow progress on opening the road. He asked for an inquiry on how it was managed.

"I appreciate your point. It's certainly not lost on us," Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, who accompanied Mr English, said.

Another was concerned it would take "eight weeks until we get one rock moved" on the northern part of the road. Mr Brownlee said the process was "quite technical… it's something I'd defend pretty strongly."

And there was concern officials were too cautious about allowing locals with 4WD vehicles access to the road. "Let locals that know the area take the risk… This would allow people up in Clarence to be part of this community," one man said.

Mr Brownlee said: "I can only take that on board, I can't respond."

One luxury accommodation owner asked if the government could work with Air NZ to allow the airport to handle larger aircraft. "Those larger aircraft would be hugely helpful," he said.

Mr Brownlee agreed a longer runway and an upgrade would be "ideal" and the Civil Aviation Authority had been working on it.

Mr Brownlee said the quake presented an opportunity for locals to make improvements.

Earlier, Mr English visited whale watch operations at South Bay Marina to hear about lethal underwater rock pinnacles that are preventing access to the slipway.

He also had a briefing from district mayor Winston Gray and council officials on repairs to water and sewerage pipes.

Bill English in Kererengu

Bill English talks with residents in Kererengu. Photo: Supplied

- POOL COPY

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