Home' Greymouth Star : January 11th 2018 Contents Thursday, January 11, 2018 - 7
6 - Thursday, January 11, 2018
Location, location, location
The case for moving Westport
As Westport faces up to a challenging future economically and environmentally with the constant threat of flooding, CHARLES BRUNING reflects on the past and takes a hard look ahead,
concluding — provocatively — that perhaps it is time to move the town altogether.
ince James MacKay purchased the
West Coast off the Maori on May
21, 1860 for 300 sovereigns, he then
returned back to Governor Grey
with a surplus of 100 sovereigns,
cunningly disguised as a good deal at
this time. The reason being is that the
West Coast Maori held on to native
reser ves which were set aside, indicating the Maori
attitude to their resources.
The areas the Maori wished to reser ve for
themselves would be those that they valued most
highly and Mackay ’s list shows the importance of
coastline and riverbanks in writing up this deed of
Today the Government is still trying to shaft the
West Coast Maori by building new medical facilities
for Westport on private land, yet again refusing the
rights of Maori to a fair deal on the utilisation of
their given land.
The West Coast takes in land from Jackson Bay
and Haast in the south to Karamea in the north and
stretches in length equivalent to the distance between
Wellington and Auckland. With 85% of the land
closed to conser vation this leaves a population of
32,000 people, paying rates to three district councils
and a regional council, just so we can maintain the
infrastructure that houses 2.5 million visitors to our
district for six months of the year.
If you look back into the history of Westport and
how it came to be built on the banks of the Buller
River, you will find that after the discovery of natural
resources of gold, timber and coal by John Rochfort,
James Mackay, Alexander Mackay, James Burnett
and Julius von Haast, that the West Coast became
influenced by European standards of value and
demand for its natural resources.
Westport was bound up with the vicissitudes of its
fate during the 1861-1872 period, the destruction of
the first town by fire, and the washing away of what
portion remained by a subsequent tidal wave, then the
disastrous flood of 1872 when the greater part of the
second town was again swept out to sea (A History of
the Buller District, W E Spencer).
Customs revenue collected at the port of Westport
during the years 1870 to 1874 was £124,549. During
the same years 184,111 ounces of gold worth some
£743,439 were exported from Westport (Votes and
Proceedings Nelson Provincial Council).
Up until 1873 there was no borough council and
there were no bylaws. There was no sanitation.
Herds of pigs and goats roamed at will and damaged
property, and it was because of this that Westport
became a municipality ( J M Robertson unpublished
papers, D Moloney unpublished papers). A publican
emptied a hogshead of stout that had become sour
into a shallow drain and Jimmy Johnson’s pigs drank
it. For hours they were uncontrollable.
Some 170 angry citizens signed a petition for
the constitution of Westport as a borough so that
a bylaw might be passed to deal with the stock
problem. In April 1873 this petition was sent to the
Nelson Provincial Council for consideration, and its
prayer was granted. On June 22, 1873, Westport was
gazetted a borough.
Towards the end of the 1870s and with the decline
in the amount of gold being mined in the district, the
community was beginning to look to the coalfields
rather than to the goldfields for future prosperity and
improved harbour facilities were essential for bulk
shipping (Votes and Proceedings Nelson Provincial
With the development of the coalfields during the
1870s substantial improvements to the wharf facilities
and harbour was essential. Changing conditions at
the river bar, and the constantly shifting channel
hampered shipping; the serious erosion caused by
the heavy floods had made it necessary to cut a relief
channel, which was completed in 1879, to contain the
river in flood (Westport Harbour file E117, 1879).
Over proceeding years with an ever-increasing
demand for coal to fuel the needs of a developing
nation it became necessary to substantially improve
the wharf facilities and proceed with the development
plan submitted by Sir John Coode, to construct
breakwaters which could confine the Buller River to a
After a long struggle for sur vival spanning 35
years the Buller Gorge section of the Midland Rail
link was finally opened in 1941. Consequently the
export of coal via rail eliminated the ever-pressing
need on Westport Harbour to maintain its port. As
a consequence Westport Harbour fell into rapid
As the demand for coal declined in the 1950s,
the planning for a modern cement works at Cape
Foulwind took place and was opened in 1959,
providing cement that has built the country’s
infrastructure and homes of New Zealanders for
57 years. During this time the Westport Harbour
was maintained to allow 5000-ton vessels to use our
Since the cement works closed on June 30, 2016, the
regular maintenance and dredging of the Westport
Harbour has declined to a point we are now reliant
on the vagaries of the Buller River itself, and time
will tell if Sir John Coode’s plans for a self-cleaning
breakwater at the river mouth will continue to work.
Unfortunately, Sir John did not plan for the 1978
Inangahua earthquake, which has brought a mountain
of gravel down the Buller River, raising the riverbed
near its tidal reaches by 1m in places. If you remove
the effects of regular dredging and then add the
effects of global warming and climate change, you
must then admit that the future of Westport as a sea
port town in its present layout is rapidly coming to
Over the last 30 years or so, various councils have
looked at planning for the future and in recent years
the present council has yet again chosen to set up
another consultation group to repeat the process. In
the meantime, history repeats itself as we strive to
combat the whims of mother nature.
If you look back over the past 150 years Westport
has been built and designed around what the country
needs at the time. The gold exported from our
harbour has found its way into the Reser ve Bank
which has been used to maintain financial stability for
the New Zealand government.
As the early settlers arrived in New Zealand they
needed wood for houses, fencing and firewood, and
soon for railway sleepers. Hardwoods such as totara
and beech made sturdy posts, and totara and rata
were also used for wharfs. Rata, manuka and matai
became fuel for cooking, heating and, later, industrial
use. Kahikatea was chosen for housing and roof
shingles. A timber industry grew and sawmills sprang
up near forests and in coastal towns. As railways were
built, operations moved inland from the rivers and
The West Coast Forest Accord of 1986 saw a
transition from logging native forest and in March
2001, to compensate locals, a $120 million fund was
set up to create other jobs such as eco-tourism.
The bottom line is that the West Coast has always
been in the commodity business with its concomitant
boom and bust cycles.
Today 85% of our forest on the West Coast is
closed to conservation, leaving 15% of our land for a
total of 32,000 people divided among the Westland
District Council, Grey District Council, Buller
District Council and a regional council, spanning
a distance equivalent to that of Wellington to
Each district council has its own entourage of
mayor/chairman, councillors, chief executive and fully
trained staff, to justify the rate spends, to all of its
constituents in their districts.
At the moment, the Local Government
Commission is looking at ways of making changes to
how council ser vices are delivered and what we would
like changed. Is there anything about the current
way your councils are set up and the way ser vices are
delivered, that you would like to change?
My thoughts are that we do need some change,
especially in the way we meet our demands from
the Government. In my mind we need three district
councils along with their mayors and councillors,
administering the needs of their ratepayers in their
districts. Keeping in mind the diversity of the West
Coast and area each the council has been asked to
As West Coasters we are guardians of 1,950,000ha
(85%) of conser vation land and 350,000ha of freehold
estate, If you put this into perspective, it would be
like asking Wellington City Council to administer
Auckland City, and we all know that would not work.
We have three district councils and one regional
council, with four chief executives administering
government legislation to 32,000 people, earning a
basic living off 15% of the available land. Just to pay
the rates that provide the infrastructure of toilets,
footpaths, roads, parks, walkways etc for millions
of tourists that want to come to our part of New
Zealand, this is a tall ask for so few. I think we have a
good case for change.
Looking back in history the West Coast was
governed by provincial councils which appointed
commissioners as their representatives. Today as 85%
of the West Coast land is held for conser vation use, it
would now be fair to ask the Government to appoint
a commissioner to the board of the West Coast
Regional Council with a view of assisting the three
district councils with a funding infrastructure in lieu
of rates from 85% of the land closed for conser vation
All district mayors from Buller, Grey and Westland,
along with the chairman of the regional council,
West Coast Development Trust, conser vation land
commissioner and our elected Member of Parliament,
should meet monthly to administer a fair and
affordable rating base for all West Coasters, sharing
one chief executive who administers all government
legislation for the four West Coast councils.
Taking all the above factors into consideration,
we now need to look at where Westport, as a town,
needs to be in the future. We are yet again riding the
troughs of change, to meet the growing needs of all
Looking forward — Buller 2050
At a milestone point such as the 150th anniversary
of Buller, we like to look back and take stock. It is
only human. To be human means we are also capable
of looking for ward and striving to new and better
Being a region that is mainly dependent on the
extractive industries, as well as the other vagaries of
New Zealand and other economies, Buller has in its
time seen booms and busts.
The latest warning shot, albeit targeting the whole
West Coast, shows that Buller has to make its own
future. Maybe now it is time to stop accepting a
boom and bust existence or the threat of such busts
as being normal in some per verted way. It is time to
stop being at the end of the line as far as decisions or
It is actually time to determine Buller’s own future
(Looking For ward Buller 2050 by Associate Professor
What can be done? A few years ago, at the request
of Mayor McManus, Prof Beukman was approached
to assist with forming a vision and strategy for
Buller, looking ahead to 2050. This is a commendable
initiative that goes well beyond the usual three-year
political horizon we have so often seen in New
Let us ask ourselves what will our legacy be? What
will happen until 2050 and after that? W hat will
we leave our children and grandchildren? W hat can
we do now that will give us a great future in Buller?
None of these are easy questions.
Strategy is a sorely abused term resulting in
many suffering from ‘strategy fatigue’, having been
bombarded with great sounding but abstract, visions,
mission statements, analyses and reams of objectives
that pass for having a game plan to make something
happen. All that often happens, unfortunately, is talk.
So, formulating a game plan that will take Buller
from ‘here now’ to ‘there then’ is neither trivial nor
easy. It is not something that will be produced at
a retreat by a few people and a whiteboard on a
weekend in between other commitments.
Firstly, a strategy requires leadership. Without some
people actually being acutely aware that we have to
work now for the future and not just now to deal with
the issues of the present, it is absolutely crucial. Great
leaders have shown in the past that they can inspire
others, take them along and make things happen.
Who will take an active lead in the Buller?
Secondly, there is priority. The year 2050 and
beyond seems so far away. The temptation is there to
deal only with the problems of today, such as potholes
in the streets or a new wastewater plant. These are
important. However, we need to take action now for
later as well, because the future will creep up on us,
making us constantly react rather than determine our
own destiny. W hat is really important for our future?
Why do you think Auckland is in such a transport
mess? That action was not started 50 years ago.
Thirdly, there is purpose. We can remain victims of
circumstances or events. These will always happen.
Some are unforeseen but many would give us ample
warning. Resilience gives us the capabilities to deal
with adversity. But there needs to be some direction.
Mining, tourism, fishing and agriculture are the
district’s strengths. We can develop others if there
is a will; we can not be beholden and driven to react
to decisions in the boardrooms of large companies
or government entities far away. What do we want
the strengths of Buller to be in 2050? It is time to be
proactive — or perish.
Fourthly, there is commitment. Nothing of value
comes easily or for free. Getting us to a desirable
future will require hard work, time and also,
regrettably, money. We need to invest in our secure
future, but this will not happen through a minimalist
attitude of promising or demanding ever-lower rates
in the now.
Stop and think a bit why are we now replacing
single-lane road bridges at significant cost? Because
way back some people were trying to do things on the
cheap. The legacy of cheap is usually something not to
be desired (remember Auckland again). What are we
willing to invest in our future?
At no stage do I have the answers and I doubt
whether any single person will have these handy
anyway, Prof Beukman said. We can, however,
together work on a few points that will result in a
game plan that will get us to a desired future.
Where do we want to be in 2050? What do we see
happening in the district then? What would we not
want to happen and, just as important, what do we
not want to happen? We can call this our vision.
This vision should in no way be pompous or
abstract. It needs to convey a picture of what
the future we desire will look like — it is an
understandable goal, not a pompous plaque on
the mayor’s office wall. It needs to be desirable
by appealing to the long-term interests of the
inhabitants of the Buller district. It needs to be
feasible, comprising realistic, achievable and attainable
Our vision has to be focused by being clear enough
to provide guidance for decision making, as well as
flexible by being general enough to allow initiative
and alternative responses in light of changing
conditions that will no doubt happen.
Furthermore, our vision has to be communicable
so that every person in the district can successfully
explain it within five minutes and able to be
remembered for five years. Just imagine that. We all
know exactly where we are heading.
In order to make the West Coast a great place to
live, work and play in 2050 we need to focus on.—
Diversifying the industry/economic base (mining
is important, but it renders us very vulnerable).
Retaining, enhancing and maintaining our
infrastructure. Through the above actions, we will by
2050 have established a sound supporting/enabling
technology infrastructure such as fibre broadband
across the region.
Very actively advertising/publicising the West
Coast as a desirable place.
Having grown our population to sustain the
desired infrastructure and services.
Attracting significant visitor numbers who stay
longer in the region and spend money on worthwhile
activities, goods and services.
By achieving the above six objectives, the residents
of Buller will have jobs, will be supported by good
infrastructure and services and as a result will enjoy
a high standard of living expected of a developed
region, but retaining its natural appeal.
The prime objectives are indeed strongly biased
towards economic development. It is my belief (as
well as many others) that sound and responsible
economic development will result in the growth of
jobs, development of infrastructure, social prosperity
and general well-being.
In many places across the world, it has been shown
that a strong regional economy will support a healthy
society free of the vagaries of want, unemployment,
crime and poverty. Singapore serves as a good
Buller therefore needs ‘adapting’ to deal with the
future — let us make these our priorities:
A: Attract visitors
D: Diversify economy
A: Advertise/publicise Buller as part of the West
P: Port development
T: Technology infrastructure
In: Investment attraction
G: Grow the population.
We list only seven action areas in total. Trying to do
everything will result in nothing. Let’s keep it simple
and focus on what can be done and what can make a
difference. Each of these seven areas is important in
its own right and will need to be led, will need our
input, will need planning and will need some serious
A new Westport?
If you look at Westport today and think, what is
its future? Who is going to build the floodwalls to
keep the Tasman Sea out, and the Buller River from
flooding the town?
Why don’t we set the infrastructure in place now
for a new town to be built on McPaddens Hill and
call it Ko-awatere (fast river), or Kawatiri if you want,
and by the next century Westport can be left to the
vagaries of industry and nature or the needs of all
New Zealanders to import or export from its port,
whatever the country needs to fuel a growing nation.
Think about it, if we plan for our new hospital to be
built on McPaddens Hill away from the flood plain, it
will still be there in 150 years’ time. If, in the unlikely
event of an emergency and Westport needs to be
evacuated, then the hospital is in the right place.
The Buller District Council is also looking to
replace its building and we need a new tourist
information centre for Westport, so why not build
a new complex incorporating council offices, civil
defence, Department of Conservation offices and the
Kahurangi National Park tourist centre, promoting
what the Buller district has to offer and put this
closer to the Crossroads as this will encourage tourists
to spend another day in our district.
To attract bus tours to the Buller district we need
to build suitable hotels that can hold dozens of buses
in places of interest like the seal colony, the cliffs of
Cape Foulwind, Oparara Karamea and one at the
Crossroads with river views.
We need to promote a seven-day bus tour of New
Zealand departing from Auckland Airport with your
first night’s stay in Rotorua, and then Wellington for
your second night’s stay. Then you cross Cooks Strait
on the InterIslander with views of the Marlborough
Sounds. You then pick up your bus again at Picton
before traveling the Buller Gorge to stay two nights
in a terraced hotel overlooking Tauranga Bay and the
seal colony or one with a river view at Ko-awatere.
Your second day return bus trip takes you to the
Oparara Basin at Karamea. The next day is a stop-
off at Punakaiki and Shantytown before spending
your fifth night at Franz Josef. Queenstown is your
next destination before spending your final night in
Christchurch before flying home from Christchurch
Westport will survive as the industrial centre and
as the port for our new town on McPaddens Hill
(Ko-awatere?). Or as we see the needs of a growing
country, are being met.
To grow New Zealand we need to export high grade
coking coal so others can make steel and we need to
use this income to drive our industry into the future.
As the new waste-to-energy plants around the
world come to fruition we need to strive to meet our
zero waste commitments of 2025. As always, we will
find that technology is forever changing to meet the
challengers of our environmental commitments.
We also need to develop our port to meet the needs
of small cruising tourism and our growing fishing
industry, making way for factories that package and
distribute fish around New Zealand on a daily basis.
BT Mining, Stephen Mining, Talley’s Fisheries
and the proposed waste-to-energy project, needs the
infrastructure Westport has to offer for a long time to
come. They need to be given the resource consents to
move houses, streets, railways, roads, water/sewerage
and buildings in a trade-off deal with the council,
for new infrastructure to be built for a new town on
However, nothing will come easy for any local body
councils on the West Coast with its small rating base.
We can not continue to provide the infrastructure
required that keeps tourist safe, while staying on our
beautiful West Coast.
We need to combine our resources and join together
as one voice for governance. All working together as
guardians and stakeholders of our beautiful part of
the world, with goals we can achieve, by using the
open strategy planning system of three components:
an information structure, a prioritisation system, and
The information structure records what is going on
and what goals are envisaged. The prioritised system
transforms the information into strategies that can
be viewed, used, and influenced by all members of
a community. And the support systems connect
people in the real world and facilitate the evolution
and implementation of the strategies, for more
information on this google ‘open strategy’.
I will now leave you with the following thought:
There are people who make things happen. There are
people who watch things happening. There are people
who prevent things happening. There are people who
wonder what happened. Which one of these is you?
PICTURE: Charles Bruning
An aerial view of Westport about two years ago. The author suggests it is time to move the town, which is built on a flood plain between the Orowaiti River and Buller River.
Links Archive January 10th 2018 January 12th 2018 Navigation Previous Page Next Page