New Zealand / Natural Disasters

Hawke's Bay residents with untouched houses deemed unlivable fight to stay put

07:48 am on 7 September 2023

Esk Valley resident Connie Lilley is fighting to have her untouched home’s risk category downgraded so she and her family can remain living there. Photo: Kate Green / RNZ

Some Hawke's Bay residents are fighting to stay in their homes that were untouched by floodwaters during Cyclone Gabrielle, yet have been deemed unsafe to live in.

The regional council said it had been dealing with around 300 requests to reassess the provisional flood-risk categories since the categories were announced.

Some wanted to move to high-risk Category 3 and qualify for a shared government-council buyout, but others - like Connie Lilley - wanted to drop from Category 3 down to 'safe' Category 1.

Lilley and her husband watched as floodwaters threatened their Esk Valley home, agreeing if it reached the third step, they and their daughter would get out. But they were okay.

"Our house did not flood - it's late 1960s-style, high foundations," Lilley said.

"We have requested to go Category 1. We're on the road for getting a buyout for a perfectly good house."

That road ended on Wednesday with a call from the regional council. Lilley was told her home and some land behind it would move to Category 1, while the rest of her land - the three hectares that did flood - remained in Category 3.

That, she could stomach.

"There are parts of my property that shouldn't have a house on it, nobody should sleep on parts of my property.

"But my house did not get flooded, it has no claim on it, it's in a position on the property that I consider is safe."

Lilley's result came after making a submission to the regional council to have her category reassessed.

Submissions for Esk Valley, Pakowhai, Tangoio and Aropaonui closed last week, and the final two areas - Dartmoor and Rissington - close on Thursday.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council chief executive Dr Nic Peet said final category decisions were due by the end of the month.

The council was working through around 300 requests for category reviews, he said, and included multiple appeals for a single property.

"We'll make sure before we get to complete the land categorisation process that we've considered all of those reassessments that people have asked for."

Peet said staff would consider people's feedback alongside technical assessments.

"Then we need to get our decision-making around the land categories to the point where we're confident we've assessed the risk to life."

Beverley Peterson, who lived down the road from Lilley, was in the same boat as her neighbour but was still waiting for word on her property's fate.

"We don't mind if the flat paddocks stay in three. The houses, with no silt or water ingress ... we're not going anywhere, basically."

Peterson said she had expected council to come knocking to check out the lay of the land - but she had not heard a peep.

Photo: RNZ/ Sally Murphy

But Peet said the process would have dragged on another six months if engineers visited every property.

Once categories were finalised, the regional council would hand over to local councils to begin the voluntary buyout process.