West Coast towns on verge of collapse without Government intervention - 'We are holding our breath'

Four West Coast glacier towns are on the verge of collapse if the Government doesn’t intervene.

That’s the shocking finding of a Development West Coast report, outlining how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected Whataroa, Franz Josef, Fox Glacier and Lake Moeraki.

The organisation’s now calling on the Government to pump money into the region.

“It's not about businesses struggling and sticking their hand out to the Government for more money, this is about the survival of communities,” Heath Milne, chief executive of the charitable trust, said.

The bleak report says 25 per cent of residents have already left since the Covid-19 pandemic began, with New Zealand's closed border drying up the Coast's international tourist market.

It projects two-thirds of businesses will have closed up shop within the next six months, resulting in an unemployment rate of up to 80 per cent in these towns.

Once the tourism businesses disappear, Milne believes the towns will unravel around them.

“The fire brigade can’t get a full manning when they go out, schools struggling with rolls and struggling with teachers. Even emergency management. With people moving away, if something goes wrong, there’s no one actually around to help the community.”

One of Adam Hough’s three businesses, the Bella Vista in Franz Josef, would normally be operating at 95 per cent capacity at this time of year, but says right now, he’s only just filling one out of every five beds.

“We rely on that profit in the summer, to get us through the winter, because we’ve got a seasonal market over here.”

The community is digging in to support one another, but Hough says it’s only a matter of time before people will have to start thinking about themselves.

“I’ve had a really awesome landlord, or landlords, and they've subsidised rent, but I don’t know how long they can afford to do that.”

“We are holding our breath.”

To hurry the process along, Milne says Development West Coast has already devised a plan.

“We didn’t want to just stick the hand out, so we actually quantified the support that’s needed to keep those businesses going for the next year, and we came up with a package that adds up to $35 million.”

“These people have done a lot already, they’ve pivoted … and done what they can, but unfortunately you can’t make up for 90 per cent loss of turnover.”

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash called Milne on Friday after receiving the proposal, and while he’s promised to visit the affected towns, he’s made no promise on funding.

“I’m confident the community’s needs will influence that, and we’ll get something.”

If no funding comes through from central government, Hough fears for what awaits the community.

“There’s a lot of people in the world gagging to get out of the cities and come to see our green, lush, natural wilderness, but if we haven't got some investment  or partnership from central government now to get us through to the point of borders opening, we're not going to be there to welcome people in the future.”


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