Hawkes Bay – a report from the region

March 2 2023

Even though associate director David Wright and his family had to evacuate their home at midnight as Cyclone Gabrielle powered through, he considers himself one of the fortunate ones.  Another RTA Studio staff member who lives down the road was in the same rocky boat. But they got out okay. “We are all safe, our houses are safe, and every day is getting better,” he says.

The flooding, which left David’s household without power for a week, was certainly challenging, not only on the domestic front where just staying on top of securing food and keeping it cold turned into a mammoth task, but also in assessing how the studio’s on-the-go projects had fared. In the event, the three on-site jobs – FoodEast (an innovation hub); Portside Precinct in Ahuriri and the Woodford House Sciences Building – came through unscathed, but there are nevertheless ongoing ramifications.

Perhaps now, more than ever, it is important for regional food industry players to collaborate on solutions that will allow them to be more climate-change adaptable. FoodEast, based just outside Hastings, will be a place for just such discussions. It’s a hub where people in the food industry can gather and share ideas. The project is a partnership between Hastings District Council, Hawkes Bay Regional Council and private enterprise and is underpinned by the Provincial Growth Fund. It comprises an open-plan office where there are shared meeting rooms and communal spaces along with an industrial component. The vision is for like-minded companies to cooperate on the development side of the food business, asking the big questions such as how AI might impact harvesting and what role genetics might play to develop species that have better resilience.

As David points out, when climate change imposes itself directly on you and your business, these types of questions are brought into sharp focus. Losing high-grade soils and watching infrastructure fail requires rebuilding from scratch. What will this mean for the industry?

Meanwhile, the studio is back up and running at full speed albeit with adapted timelines since council has advised that all processing staff will be inspecting flood-affected buildings rather than new and current ones. But the devastation wrought and memories of the event still linger. It’s jarring and shocking to drive streets where caravans are parked in trees and there are flattened fields and orchards. Everyone knows someone who has lost something. There have been silver linings, however. Such as deeper connection to community. Neighbours David had never met popped over to share a BBQ with a brisket that was in danger of spoiling. And the team of five at the office has been drawn a lot closer by this unimaginable event.

The cost of the rebuild will be in the billions and it will take years. At the same time, the region had already been facing a shortage of materials and trades. There are a finite amount of contractors and logistical issues about where an expanded workforce could be housed. Still, every day is a step towards a new version of normal.  Interesting times.