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"Not a single hour of work done" - govt slammed for shelved half million dollar fire clean up programme

A half-million-dollar promise from the Government to help with the clean-up of Nelson Tasman following a massive forest fire has been quietly shelved.

On February 18, Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni announced she had signed off on an Enhanced Taskforce Green programme, making $500,000 available in support of affected communities.

The scheme was supposed to put job seekers to work on damaged properties.  

At the time, Ms Sepuloni described how "property owners, residents and the community will have their needs assessed. They may need help with clearing burnt buildings, fences and debris and other work".

But it’s been revealed that no work was ever carried out.

"They promised 10,000 hours of help for property owners that were affected.  Not a single hour of work has been done," Nelson MP Nick Smith told 1 NEWS.

The National politician has been sceptical of the idea since it was announced and says he told the Government so back in February.

"The idea that there were going to be unemployed people available to do skilled work, the likes of replacing fences, replacing driveways, replanting, landscaping and crops, was always going to be unworkable and impractical," he said.

In response, Ministry of Social Development Regional Commissioner Craig Churchill said it was important to activate the Taskforce quickly, "given the devastating effect of the fires".

He said staff worked closely with those dealing with the fires, but because the burning continued underground long after they were put out above, "it took some time to be able to determine what sort of recovery work was going to be needed".

It was then acknowledged the remediation work and replanting for commercial forestry would require specialist skills. A decision was in early May to close the fund. 

Mr Churchill said Enhanced Taskforce Green funding "does remain available as an option for the Tasman District Council" if future work meets the scheme's criteria. 

Three months on, Tasman residents are still dealing with the impact of the fires, in particular, landowners who had their properties torn up by heavy machinery as a result of firefighters needing to create defence lines to contain the Pigeon Valley blaze. 

Dr Smith said there’s "still a lot of uncertainty for property owners" who have "had to get on and get planted in time for winter, so that those crops and landscape can recover".

"The big frustration for landowners today is they still haven't been able to get the bills paid for the repair work and some of that repair work is still to be done."

Applications to the Tasman Mayoral Relief Fund closed earlier this month, with $450,000 in donations received for distribution.

The Government has given nearly $1.8 million in lottery grants, with further assistance pledged from several agencies.

A spokesperson for Tasman District Council said $272,300 has been committed to land remediation from firefighting activities on private land which are a combination of earthworks, fencing and land cultivation. The overall expected cost is around $900,000.

The aim is to have all money paid out to affected residents by the end of June.

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    The $500,000 scheme was supposed to put job seekers to work on fire-damaged Nelson-Tasman properties. Source: 1 NEWS