Seddon misses out on wage subsidy package to help businesses stranded by earthquake

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake sent stock flying off the shelves at Seddon Supervalue.
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake sent stock flying off the shelves at Seddon Supervalue.

A small Marlborough town hammered by three earthquakes in three years has missed out on a financial lifeline for stranded businesses along the east coast.

Seddon, 25 kilometres south of Blenheim, was hit by two major earthquakes in 2013, only to be hit again by the devastating 7.8 magnitude event on Monday.

The earthquake sent massive rockfalls down over State Highway 1, the arterial route many businesses in the town depend on for passing trade.

Marlborough Mayor John Leggett, left, with economic development minister Steven Joyce.
OLIVER LEWIS/FAIRFAX NZ

Marlborough Mayor John Leggett, left, with economic development minister Steven Joyce.

In response to the diaster and the closure of parts of the highway, the Government announced on Thursday it would deliver a wage subsidy for businesses in affected areas.

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Those in Kaikoura, Cheviot, Waiau, Rotherham, Mt Lyford and Ward were eligible, but Seddon, just 20 kilometres north of Ward on the highway, was left off the list.

A meeting in the Marlborough District Council chambers, from left, chief executive Mark Wheeler, Marlborough Mayor John ...
OLIVER LEWIS/FAIRFAX NZ

A meeting in the Marlborough District Council chambers, from left, chief executive Mark Wheeler, Marlborough Mayor John Leggett, and economic development minister Steven Joyce.

The owner of Seddon institution, Cosy Corner Cafe and Bar, said while they did not need the subsidy yet, the closure of SH1 left her uncertain about the future.

Linda Horton said there was a lot of road workers and others responding to earthquake damage coming into the cafe, but when they left she did not know what would happen.

"There's big uncertainty, we're going to have to take it one day at a time, our tourism season was just coming up, but what's the point in coming through this way now?"

Horton said their main trade over the Christmas period was from passengers travelling through for the ferry, as well as truck drivers, who were now taking freight through Lewis Pass.

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There was between 10 and 12 staff working at the cafe, and while Horton said there was enough trade at the moment, she was worried about what would happen when that died off.

"We may have to cut back on hours because we won't have the turnover, but all my staff are safe at the moment because of everyone checking in," she said.

Having access to the wages subsidy would be nice in the future, but Horton said she could also fall back on her business interruption insurance.

Marlborough Mayor John Leggett said he was a bit disappointed that Seddon was not included in the $7.5 million package, which was available to businesses that could not operate or were operating at a reduced capacity.

He made the comment after a meeting on Friday with economic development minister Steven Joyce, who said he had not ruled out extending the subsidy to other areas, including Seddon.

The town was more connected to the broader Marlborough economy and less dependent on the highway than neighbouring Ward, Joyce said.

"It's all about businesses that have had a dramatic drop in turnover which is going to be sustained for a period of time, and if that's an issue in Seddon we'd be more than happy to look at what we can do," he said.

Businesses that were eligible for the Earthquake Support Subsidy could get eight weeks of support, with $500 per week paid to fulltime workers and $300 per week paid to part-time workers.

The Government, which had set aside $7.5 million in support, planned on reviewing the package before Christmas.

During his visit to the region Joyce also met with members of the wine industry to discuss issues arising from the earthquake, including capacity challenges because of damaged tanks.

"With the wine industry, they're going to have some capacity issues this year because of the impact on some of the wineries and of course they've only got 14 weeks until harvest," he said.

Joyce said he would continue to work with the industry to help them secure the resources they needed in preparation for next vintage. 

Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens said this meant things such as steel, to build more tanks, as well as making sure there was enough labour.

The Government announced on Friday a $5m injection into earthquake-affected regions to help out the farming, fishing and wine industries.

Joyce also mentioned the challenges facing the tourism industry in Marlborough with the closure of SH1, but said Tourism New Zealand and Destination Marlborough were doing a good job marketing the region.

"I would say to people that Marlborough is a destination in its own right, make sure you come here," he said.

For more information about the Earthquake Support Subsidy click here.

 - The Marlborough Express

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