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Mayor Len Salt and Councillor Morrissey talking with Mike from the Pepper Tree Restaurant in Coromandel Town. Photo: SUPPLIED/THAMES COROMANDEL DISTRICT COUNCIL

Businesses ‘overlooked’ in storm relief

In what should be the busiest time of the year for the Coromandel Peninsula, last months’ road closures and heavy rains have instead left visitors reluctant to travel and local businesses struggling through quieter than usual long weekends.

Now, a central government announcement providing relief funds for Auckland’s floods has left many in Thames-Coromandel feeling overlooked.

A $5 million package was allocated to help Auckland businesses with flood recovery payments, mental wellbeing support and small business advice.

But for Coromandel business owners, their only available relief was the waiving of penalty fees for late payments to Inland Revenue.

Coromandel MP Scott Simpson said he was “very disappointed”.

“Our businesses have been disadvantaged by a series of heavy weather events and it seems that the government has decided to prioritise the Auckland businesses ahead of Coromandel businesses,” he said.

“I think that’s remiss and unfair.”

Mr Simpson said the announcement showed ministers’ lack of understanding about the impact of severe weather events on the Coromandel’s economy.

“I know how gutted Coromandel businesses will feel. [State Highway 25A] is clearly going to be out of action for much longer than any of us would want,” he said.

“That’s going to mean changed travel patterns, extra cost, extra time and obvious impacts for businesses and
people around our region.”

Though some businesses along State Highway 2 have reported an increase in business due to the detour, Thames Business Association manager Sue Lewis O’Halloran said Thames businesses had been impacted.

She said the message on national news to avoid the Coromandel had been harmful, adding that advice for visitors to travel via Paeroa or Ngatea had meant that Thames had missed out on business.

“There is concern and frustration from our business community,” she said.

Sue said some businesses had estimated their loss of business over Waitangi weekend at 30 per cent or more.

Destination Hauraki-Coromandel general manager Hadley Dryden said for many business owners it had been the worst season in a decade.

“We’ve had, prior to Covid, nine years of year-on-year growth. Then Covid hit and we’ve struggled through that, and now this has happened,” he said.

“It’s not only the financial toll, it’s the mental toll that it takes as well.”

Mr Dryden said the whole visitor sector was eager to encourage people to return to local businesses, adding that the season was not yet over.

“Once this weather clears we’ve still got a good opportunity to welcome visitors right through till the beginning of May,” he said.

“It’s not uncommon for it to be regarded as the best time to visit anyway. Temperatures aren’t so hot
… the water’s warm, you still get those long summer evenings without the actual heat so we’re pretty keen to just ramp it up, lay out the welcome mat and get people back again.”

Thames Coromandel District Mayor Len Salt visited Coromandel Town on Waitangi Day, talking to business owners about the impact of the storms and the need for visitors to return.

“With the support of Destination Hauraki-Coromandel, a campaign will be running in the coming weeks to encourage traffic through Thames, along the Thames Coast and up to Coromandel Town to encourage people to take a break, have a coffee and wander the shops before heading on their journey to the eastern seaboard,” Mayor Salt said.

“The campaign will also promote the State Highway 25 southern entrance from Waihi through to Whangamatā, and up to Tairua and Pauanui.”

Businesses across the district will be ramping up their own advertising as well, with business associations in Thames, Whangamatā and Mercury Bay planning meetings to discuss promotion of their areas.

Goldfields Shopping Centre Manager John Freer also acknowledged that business had been a little slow during the stormy weeks.

The mall was closed and sandbagged on February 1 in anticipation of rising floodwaters, however the expected overflow did not eventuate and the shops were reopened the following day.

“It’s obviously been quiet over the last few days. And of course the impact going forward is a bit hard to tell,” Mr Freer said.

“Long weekends always create a lot of business, and that hasn’t eventuated because of the rain.”

Mr Freer said there was also uncertainty over whether customers from the eastern side of the Peninsula would return to Thames now that the State Highway 25A road from Kopu to Hukuai was closed.

“Whether they’ll still continue to come around [to Thames] through Waihi or choose to go to places like Tauranga, it’s a bit of an unknown.” 

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public Journalism funded by NZ on Air.