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New PM tours quake affected Kaikoura

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 14/12/2016
Image of new Prime Minister BIll English and Deputy Minister Paula Bennett © Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images Image of new Prime Minister BIll English and Deputy Minister Paula Bennett

Bill English has made his first official visit as Prime Minister, touring earthquake affected Kaikoura.

Mr English and acting Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee met with locals in a town hall meeting on Thursday morning after meeting with whale watch operators, visiting a local cafe and cheese shop.

The visit comes as the government announced it would cost up to $2 billion to restore State Highway 1 and the rail corridor north and south of Kaikoura after last month's 7.8-magnitude earthquake.

Mr English told locals the re-opening of SH1 and funding to dredge Kaikoura Harbour will "push the button" on the town's recovery.

"We want 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.

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 Mr Brownlee 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.

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