Hopefuls open up on major issues

By John Maslin

1 comment
IN THE FIRING LINE: The 15 candidates wait their turn at last night's public forum. 130913WCSMCOUNCILERS4
IN THE FIRING LINE: The 15 candidates wait their turn at last night's public forum. 130913WCSMCOUNCILERS4

For a group who had never shared the same stage before, there was remarkable synergy among the 15 who fronted the second district council candidates' meeting last night.

A mix of current councillors and newbies were part of the programme organised by the Wanganui Chronicle and the Whanganui Employers' Chamber of Commerce , with the War Memorial Centre's concert chamber almost full.

And some of the candidates were honest enough to acknowledge when they did not know enough about an issue to give an reasonable answer.

Again it was the Sarjeant Gallery extension, rates and debt levels, the city's image and support for the PS Waimarie that garnered the liveliest responses.

When it came to debt and cost cutting, Philippa Baker-Hogan argued she had been careful with spending the council's money but said the council should not "kill the city"while making savings.

Jack Bullock suggested divesting more council property and looking at the options of running some facilities on a more business-like footing.

But not all agreed debt was the problem. For Jenny Duncan it was about building the population, while Jason Granville said the council needed to be generating revenue ideas rather than focusing on debt.

Ian Harrex said he wanted to see a shift in culture from one of spending to one of saving.

Martin Visser said debt should not be the sole focus; the key was marketing the city.

Bevan Johnston said the council needed to drop its reliance on consultants, a view that was also held by Gordon Lambert.

Robert Scott said belt-tightening was needed, while Garth Scown wanted staffing levels to be looked at.

Rory Smith pointed the finger at central government demands being foisted on council - "We need to push back," he said.

The wastewater treatment plant problems generally kept the candidates on the same songsheet.

Cherry Channon said the wet industries needed to be properly monitored but face penalties if they broke the rules.

Randhir Dahya promoted a consensus line, saying the council would be better working with industries than working against them, a view shared by most candidates.

And there were like views held on the matter on economic development, with most seeing the council's role as that of facilitator.

Ms Duncan said the council needed to adopt a "red carpet rather than red tape" approach to new businesses, and Mr Granville said it made sense to tap into the innovative minds in the city.

As with last week's line-up, the contenders backed earthquake-strengthening the Sarjeant Gallery but baulked at any extension unless someone else was paying for it.

Subsidising the PS Waimarie brought a mix of suggestions, from parking it up as a static display to giving it over the private enterprise to run, but the majority favoured continued city support with some tags.

Mr Visser said the boat was a treasure and needed to be marketed as Wanganui's point of difference.

Wanganui's image prompted the liveliest responses, with the media - this newspaper included - in the line of fire.

Mr Smith said people needed to look at themselves first before a change could be made and the council needed to correct what had been a "dysfunctional marketing strategy".

Mr Scown said the image was a perception held more by outsiders than locals - "if there's a better place to live, then tell me about it".

Most candidates were not impressed to be asked which of the three mayoral aspirants they could work best, as it was the electorate who chose the mayor.

There was concern about UCOL's future but some of the candidates said the campus had to provide courses with future job opportunities.

However, Mr Wills said he always believed UCOL wanted to close the Wanganui campus.

"We don't see them spending a lot of money promoting the courses they run here," he said.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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