Kekerengu locals round on politicians after quakes

10:26 pm on 15 December 2016

Angry and isolated locals rounded on Prime Minister Bill English and Earthquake Commission minister Gerry Brownlee when they made a flying visit to the Kaikōura coastline.

Bill English in Kererengu

Bill English talks with residents in Kererengu. Photo: Supplied

Mr English landed in a defence force chopper on the lawn of Kekerengu café The Store this afternoon, to be met with around 40 furious and frustrated locals.

Local Clarence farmer John Murray told Mr English: "We had a meeting here three weeks ago and Gerry was here, and we left full of hope that something was going to happen... We have sat down there for three weeks and nothing has bloody well happened and it's shocking - it is the absolute pits."

Progress on opening roads was too slow, Mr Murray said.

"No one has attacked this northern end, the road's been open from Blenheim, no one's started tidying this road up at all, they've made patch-up repairs all the way through and the roads from Ward and Waipapa Bay should have been upgraded and ready to go so we could just go into the next stage.

"Nothing has been done except patch-up and I reckon it's piss-poor - and if that's what our government feels about us and how they deal with emergencies, then I'm afraid you have lost a lot of votes and a lot of confidence in this area."

Mr Murray was also concerned local contractors were not being used.

But Mr Brownlee fired back.

"I don't think I can give you an answer either, but what I can say is [the New Zealand Transport Agency] have not been sitting on their backside doing nothing and quite frankly I resent your comments deeply," Mr Brownlee told Mr Murray.

"The amount of work that's gone in to try and sort things out here is just extraordinary.

"I know you might be affected in your farm but we are trying to get a solution to this problem that does see us constantly coming back in what is very changing geology in years to come."

He added: "We're also competing with people who are telling us what we can't do all the time, and there is many of them and there [are] thousands more than those who are telling us to get on with the job, so from our perspective it's not easy.

"Sorry you're frustrated, but I'm pissed off that you took that attitude quite frankly, and I've just sworn on TV."

The argument continued when the man said: "That's fine Gerry, but I think you'll find everyone here thinks like I think."

But Mr Brownlee didn't want to let the criticism go answered.

"How do you think I feel? Sitting here looking at this and nothing happening, [of] course we're working hard to get it done."

Other locals were worried about expensive airfares and a lack of flights into the area, and access to schools for local kids.

Mr English moved to take the heat out of the discussion.

"The question around this is getting the right amount of communication with you guys because you're on the road, you're going to be watching this every day and I think it's quite important that you know what's going to happen," he said.

"My understanding is that as we've got the funding that pushes the button for everybody and so we need to make sure that you do know what is going to happen and I imagine that's going to come along before too long."

But not all at the meeting felt so strongly.

One woman interrupted Mr Murray's tirade to question his assertion that "nothing's been done".

She said later that many of locals understood the challenges the Government faced in rebuilding critical infrastructure.

After the hour-long stop off, Mr English flew north to call on Peter Yealand's vineyards. He toured the winery and saw damaged done to huge tanks, before flying back to Wellington.

- POOL COPY

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