There are fresh calls for a public debate around whether to change the names of some of Tauranga's best-known streets.

Many roads in the central city and others scattered around the wider city and Western Bay of Plenty are named for British men involved in the land wars and, notably, the Battle of Gate Pā (Pukehinahina), which happened 155 years ago this month.

Some were military men - such as General Duncan Cameron (Cameron Rd) who commanded the British troops at the 1864 battle - while others were politicians and missionaries.

Tommy Wilson, a long-time campaigner for changing the names, said they were a source of mamae (pain) for some tangata whenua.

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"General Cameron led a, what some would call, a massacre against Māori.

"It is still painful for tangata whenua today."

He said the city's street names should be relevant to Tauranga's pre-European history and people as well as telling its post-colonial stories.

In some places, he believed a bilingual approach would work.

Greerton, named for British commander Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Harpur Greer, could also go by the Māori name for the area: Tutara Wananga.

"It's no different to Mt Cook-Aoraki - or Mount Maunganui-Mauao. It's about learning and understanding our history and that's good for all of us - both Māori and non-Māori."

Tauranga iwi-owned station Moana Radio asked its Facebook fans on Tuesday whether it was time for a change.

Station manager Takiri Butler said it was a debate worth having to raise people's understanding of the history of the area.

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The reaction from Moana's fans, many of them Māori, was "pretty one-sided" in favour of change, she said.

Ngāi Tamarāwaho elder Peri Kohu said he would like to see some names changed but others he felt had become part of the history of the town.

"It's a healthy discussion to have. It throws up an opportunity to look at ourselves and audit ourselves."

He said a bilingual approach to, for example, the numbered avenues would be a good start.

Ngāi Te Rangi chairman Charlie Tawhiao said it was an interesting debate in the context of New Zealand's focus on racism after the Christchurch terror attacks.

"In my view, it is a conversation that is long overdue."

He said changing the names would recognise the lesser known history of the city, and see the same respect shown for Māori ancestors as was shown to European colonists.

"I think it would be a noble gesture by the city council to change the street names, but I think it's unlikely."

Both Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless and Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Garry Webber said widespread public consultation and support would be needed to change any names.

Neither had a strong personal view on the issue.

Julie Green, president of the Tauranga Historical Society, said in her opinion changing long-standing names would provoke confusion and angst.

There was, however, historical precedence, for example, renaming the later avenues to numbers in the 50s.

In 2002 Giselle Byrnes wrote in an essay in the New Zealand Journal of History that the dismissal of local Māori names and their "consequent banishment to the margins of the city map" was an "expression of 'cultural colonisation' in Tauranga", with the first Māori settlers, as well as white women, all but forgotten.

FACTBOX
Some street names referencing the Battle of Gate Pā

Cameron Rd - General Duncan Alexander Cameron
Devonport Rd - A naval base in England
Durham and Monmouth Sts - Infantry brigades
Greerton Rd - Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Harpur Greer
Hamilton St - Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton
Harington St - Colonel Philip Harington
Manley Grove - Surgeon-General William George Nicholas Manley
Mitchell St - Samuel Mitchell
Fraser St - Colonel William Fraser
Esk, Harrier, Miranda - Ships that brought troops to the battle

- Debbie McCauley, Tauranga Kete