Every year the Whanganui District Council surveys some of its locals, quizzing them on a range of topics: How do they feel about their place, what satisfies them and what gets under their skin. Chronicle reporter JOHN MASLIN runs the rule over the latest community views survey.


So what do we think of the place we call home? What do we like about it and what gets up our collective noses?

It's not fail-safe but the annual community views survey done for the Whanganui District Council is a reasonable litmus test of the community's satisfaction rating. It measures the communities opinion of council's services and facilities and also gives snapshots of how locals feel about their quality of life, community engagement and well-being.

Versus Research has been doing this survey for council since 2009 although similar surveys have been carried out over the past couple of decades.

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This year's quiz-fest was carried out between February 29 and March 24 this year. In all 491 residents were surveyed - 406 over the phone and the remaining 85 questioned online.

Marianne Cavanagh, a senior policy adviser at council, said the survey was a key monitoring tool to assess council's own performance.

"It helps identify areas that may need some service improvement and informs on our levels of service," Mrs Cavanagh said.

It's worth noting that this year the survey went online with its questions because fewer people are using landlines and it was reasoned online was the best way to contact younger people.

This year some questions were added and others removed. Gone were the hardy annuals - questions about satisfaction with roads, footpaths and parking.

"These were considered superfluous now we've introduced mandatory measures to monitor council's performance," Mrs Cavanagh said.

New questions were asked about "neighbourly behaviour", centring on residents' sense of pride in their neighbourhood, the importance of a sense of community and participation in "neighbourly" activity. People were also quizzed about internet access from their homes, a question aimed more at helping council redesign its own online services and activities.

So armed with these results, what else does council do with them?

Mrs Cavanagh said the key observations are pulled out from the results and noted with "proposed actions".

"These actions are then discussed with activity managers. That could be to promote events or marketing through Whanganui and Partners."

The survey threw up a medley of responses and they varied across the suburbs and district. While some felt strongly about an issue other residents didn't always share the same opinion.

Whanganui-ites know we are blessed with some outstanding walks, typically boisterous west coast North Island beaches and wonderful parks. Not surprisingly they all rank highly in terms of use and popularity. Yet despite that there was a significant decrease in the number of locals who had used or visited a sports ground.

Considerable time and money is being spent on river and cycle ways yet according to the survey they are still under-utilised. But council believes the creation of the City Bridge to North Mole cycleway is expected to turn that perception around. Younger people (aged 18-29) say they're more likely to use the riverbank walkway for exercise.

Our city library is still the most popular cultural activity, achieving the highest percentage in terms of use (60 per cent - up 5 per cent). There was a significant drop in the percentage of locals visiting our museum and a drop in satisfaction as well. Likewise, there's been a drop in user satisfaction with Sarjeant on the Quay although customer surveys at the gallery showed high satisfaction with the gallery and its exhibitions.

Asked about positive aspects of our place, locals said a "good community" and "great facilities" remained at the top of the list when finding reasons for living here.

And perceptions of safety in the central business district at night continue to improve - currently at 61 per cent which carries on building from the 45 per cent in 2012. And people feel much safer in the CBD during the daytime.

Our sense of community matters but for those living in Castlecliff it's rated as "very important". Close to 70 per cent felt a sense of pride in their neighbourhood with those living in St Johns Hill and Springvale likely to "strongly agree" they had pride in how their neighbourhood looks and feels.

The majority of us say we wouldn't leave but this number is down slightly on the last survey. No surprise those aged 18-29 are more likely to leave if they could while those aged over 50 were more likely to stay. And there's an overarching reason that would prompt people to leave - better jobs. But less emphasis was placed on financial reasons for leaving this year compared to the 2015 survey.

Mrs Cavanagh said using the riverbank walkway for recreational purposes has seen a consistent decline.

"However, more options were added this year such as walking dog, exercise and cycling, so it's assumed that residents have been more specific with what they use the walkway for," she said.

"Resident wellbeing has remained relatively consistent over time. However, a sense of belonging has decreased year on year. Natalie Richards (Versus Research) said a decrease in the sense of belonging was not unique to Whanganui but is occurring in other communities throughout the country," she said.

So how do we feel about living here?

When it comes to describing our level of well-being 67 per cent of us rated it high or very high. Those rating it low or very low told surveyors they were experiencing personal difficulties, had lost a partner or were unwell. Springvale and St Johns Hill residents were the most likely to rate their "well-being"as high.

And it was a similar response when people were asked their sense of belonging or feeling part of the community. More than half of them rated that strong while 36 per cent gave it a moderate rating.

Those living in St Johns Hill and Springvale "strongly agreed" they had pride in how their neighbourhood looks and feels. On the other hand in Castlecliff people strongly disagreed with that statement.

So how does this sense of community present itself in the real world?

Most of us (88 per cent) either wave to our neighbours or speak to them. We often clear the neighbours' mail and 66 per cent of us socialise with our neighbours. If you're looking for the more convivial among us, then St Johns Hill and Aramoho residents are leading the way.

It seems most of us (58 per cent) are content to stay where we are, while 27 per cent would leave Whanganui if we could.

The top five reasons for leaving Whanganui in order are job opportunities, moving closer to family or friends, better opportunities in bigger cities, needing a change and financial reasons.

And if we were to move, where would we go? Most picked Wellington followed by "north", then New Plymouth or overseas (including Australia). Key reasons for moving to a particular place were better lifestyle or recreation opportunities.