A poll looks almost certain to be held to challenge the decision to have separate Maori seats on the Western Bay of Plenty District Council.

Councillors who opposed the decision to have a Maori ward or wards for the 2019 and 2022 elections have succeeded in raising the 1708 signatures needed to force the council into holding a district-wide poll on the issue.

''We are feeling comfortable about achieving 3000 signatures,'' Te Puke councillor Mike Lally said.

He and fellow councillor Margaret Murray-Benge believe they will gather more than enough signatures to guarantee a poll - even if a couple of hundred signatures on the petition turned out to be people ineligible to vote in the Western Bay District.


Murray-Benge said they had well over 2000 signatures already and there were still plenty to come in.

The feedback she received was that people were upset the council did not consult with them before voting on the proposal to introduce Maori wards. She felt two Maori wards were inevitable because of the different tribal affiliations between the eastern and western sides of the council.

Murray-Benge cited the survey commissioned by Hobson's Pledge to support her contention the poll would overturn the decision to have Maori wards.

Hobson's Pledge Trust is a lobby group formed to "arrest a decline in irreversible separatism" in New Zealand. One of its leaders is Don Brash - Murray-Benge's partner.

A third of the 340 people surveyed by email were from the Western Bay area, but in the overall result 60 per cent of ratepayers disagreed with the proposal to set up Maori wards. The survey also covered people living in the Manawatu and Palmerston North councils' areas where Maori wards are also in contention.

Murray-Benge said even with an 8 per cent margin of error for the size of the Western Bay sample, it still showed strong opposition to Maori wards. Only 10 per cent supported wards, and the rest had no opinion.

The question put to Western Bay residents was: ''Do you agree that Western Bay of Plenty should be divided into one or more Maori wards.''

Lally said they were still collecting signatures outside the Post Office in Te Puke while the Katikati side of the petition was being conducted door to door.


From what he had been hearing, he was "very confident" the poll would overturn the council's 9-3 vote last November.

Historian Buddy Mikaere (Ngati Pukenga) suspected the poll would go against the council's decision because, while the petitioners had been lobbying flat out, no one had been in the public arena arguing for Maori wards.

Even if Maori lobbied, they would be outnumbered and would need to rely on the wider pakeha population to get Maori wards across the line. ''That is why we want a Maori ward.''

Mikaere was not surprised or disheartened the 1708 signatures would be reached, but he was slightly disappointed. ''It might not be this time.''

So when will it happen, he was asked. ''Biology will take care of that,'' he replied referring to intermarriage between Maori and Pakeha.

Western Bay Mayor Garry Webber said it would cost $70,000 to conduct a poll. He had no comment on the petition except to say the council would follow due process.

On the comment the council should have consulted with residents, he said: ''Margaret is entitled to her opinion.''