Monday, April 22, 2024

Disagreement over flood fund process

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Despite becoming a political football, the Canterbury $4 million flood recovery fund provided by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is tracking as planned. But as offers of settlement are being sent to landowners there’s a warning of caution that central government funding assistance for the one-in-200-year May flood event should not be seen to set a precedent for future weather events.
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Despite becoming a political football, the Canterbury $4 million flood recovery fund provided by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is tracking as planned.

But as offers of settlement are being sent to landowners there’s a warning of caution that central government funding assistance for the one-in-200-year May flood event should not be seen to set a precedent for future weather events.

National MP for Selwyn Nicola Grigg claims government has left highly stressed flood-stricken farmers in the lurch.

“Almost four months on from the floods that devastated much of rural Canterbury and the Government has fallen well short of the promises it made to local farmers,” Grigg said.

She says the funding eligibility criteria is far too strict, discounting hundreds of affected farmers and landowners.

Criteria set for the fund requires 51% of income to be from primary industry, leaving lifestyle blocks on the sideline alongside farming businesses supplemented by other incomes such as tourism, nurses, teachers, builders and rental property revenue.

“The monetary value of the applications alone indicates the Government is way off target.

“We are now four months on from an adverse event that was out of our farmers’ control and they have had to jump through hoops for a chance at getting some financial assistance.”

Grigg is calling on government to review and loosen the eligibility criteria and get money out the door to help those farmers most in need.

But Mid Canterbury Federated Farmers president David Clark says the $4m flood fund process is going to plan.

“Some claims are paid out; some are still being assessed and some fall outside the priority criteria of clearing flooded shingle and silt off productive land.

“This is precisely how we planned for the process to go,” Clark said.

He says the flood event that spewed excess riverbed shingle out onto individual farms after the flood protection works failed was the result of inadequate riverbed management.

“Arguably, as a whole of community we have not adequately managed the aggradation of shingle in the riverbed and it is the peculiar nature of this event on which the funding criteria was set.

Federated Farmers, in conjunction with other industry bodies, was asked to draw up criteria that targeted it precisely to the purpose for which it was applied.

“It is following the logic of the mechanics of this flood that formed the basis of our request to central government for funding to assist impacted farmers to remove the shingle and silt from their farms,” Clark said.

Provision was given to a second round of applications for remediation of other uninsurable assets such as culverts, ponds, tracks, should the $4m not be fully required for shingle removal.

Funding is a partnership with MPI contributing up to 50% and the landowner meeting the remainder, with a limit of $250,000 for each application.

Clark says there are some important concepts to remember to mitigate potential impact on faming businesses in the future.

“What we all need to remember is there doesn’t appear to be a precedent in modern New Zealand where a national government funded the repair of private assets on private land in a weather event.

“If we view central government as liable for those costs on farms it is possible there will be unintended consequences.

“If they are taking liability, they may want to limit what activity takes place on flood risk classified land such as constructing buildings, fences, tracks, developing irrigation.

“That’s exactly why this (funding) process had to be very careful there hasn’t been a precedent set and the criteria was precise to the peculiar nature of this event.”   

Clark says there’s no doubt the impact of the May flood has been enormous for many Canterbury families and going forward the whole community needs to be involved in how the rivers are managed and funded. 

MPI has received 168 applications, with a total monetary value more than $8m. So far 82 applications totalling $1.48m have been approved.

If the $4m is not fully allocated in the initial priority round the fund will open to applications for remedial land assets.

“At this point it will become clearer whether additional funding is required as pledged by the Prime Minister,” Clark said.

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