Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Prime Minister John Key promises fast-track help for Kaikoura businesses

Prime Minister John Key has promised fast-track help to keep Kaikoura businesses on their feet at a meeting with farmers and business people in the town today.

Key met with local tourism and hospitality operators, farmers and other businesses at Kaikoura.

He said the Government had managed to put up a business support package in Christchurch very quickly.

"So we're not going to muck around. My expectation would be that we'll be able to come up with some details in the next 24 to 48 hours."

One business owner said a clear picture of that support was needed to help assess whether they could remain in Kaikoura.

He said it was unlikely they would make money this summer season and tourism was also low in winter even when the roads were open.

"So for the next year our businesses are interrupted."

Key said it would be similar to the Christchurch package which included paying staff for up to 11 weeks and picking up the tab for those without business continuity insurance.

That meant businesses could keep staff so that when the tourists returned there was the capacity to host them.

Tax breaks were also possible.

It would be a high trust model to cut down on the red tape.

"We don't expect you to have to go through miles and miles of paperwork."

"In theory, if we can get some connectivity back up again, you might be in a position where obviously your income is going to be down a bit, but if we are helping pay the wages and we can get some of the tourists back - not all of them because there will be some reduction, then we can get through the worst of it and get you out the other side."

He told them while they might have to write off through traffic from the north for a while, the damage to the state highway to the south was less severe and would at least open the way from Christchurch.

Ian Croucher, owner of South Bay Fishing Charters, told Key most of the industry was based around the ocean.

"A lot of the emphasis is going to have to go into the marine area, getting that up and operational so that we can actually get back and keep people employed and keep staff. So maybe that to us is pretty high priority."

Concerns were raised that boat operators such as Whale Watch would only be able to go out at very high tide. Key said it was possible dredging could fix that.

The Government had not yet considered whether one-off emergency legislation such as that used in Christchurch would be needed for Kaikoura to speed up resource consent processes.

Key said if it was needed, it could be passed very quickly under urgency and he had no doubt it would get broad support in Parliament.

"Put it this way: if we had to do it to get things going quickly we'd do it. That would be our view. If we have to do it we'll do it. We don't want to abuse those powers but if we have to do something to get you guys back in business, I'm sure most people locally at least would agree."

It earned him a round of applause.

Officials at the meeting with Key told the locals the priority had been on ensuring people were safe, getting them out, and restoring basic services but things were now moving to the recovery stage which was a longer process. Officials were still taking stock of the problems other than the most obvious - the roads.

Key was also asked to help with messaging to reduce the impact on tourism internationally.

He was told about 80 per cent of the tourism in Kaikoura was international, including from China, Australia and the United Kingdom.

He warned that could take some doing in some markets.

"The only thing that worries me as Minister of Tourism is just that some markets are quite sensitive to earthquakes and so they really worry about the fact there's been earthquakes."

He said as soon as the roading network was back in place to Christchurch the Government could "throw some money" into an online campaign to advertise it.

There were some lighter moments - there was laughter and a spattering of applause when Key told them they were in the thoughts of US President-elect Donald Trump and he had asked Key to pass on his best wishes.

Key also observed the influx of naval vessels from other countries was putting on quite a tourism show for them.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges said officials were working night and day on clearing an inland route and expected it to be open soon.

He said naval ships were also bringing in fuel and diesel.

After the meeting, Glenn Ormsby said it was helpful but businesses were worried.

"Summer's coming up, and what do we do? It should be our busiest period and what do we do?"

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 08 Dec 2016 11:00:52 Processing Time: 1042ms