Borrowing $12.3 million to redevelop Whanganui's port makes an essential commitment to a project Whanganui leaders talked of for years, councillor Hadleigh Reid says.

The borrowing was given the tick by Whanganui district councillors when they met to debate the 2019-20 annual plan.

Any increased spending will raise the average rate increase above a planned 3.6 per cent.

The top item was bringing funding for the port redevelopment forward to the financial year that starts on July 1, and borrowing an additional $6.2m for the project.

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It is a key change from what was agreed in the 2018-28 Long Term Plan, the meeting agenda said.

It brings total borrowing for the port to $12.3m, to begin in March or April next year.

"We've been dilly-dallying for too long. It's time to show some commitment," Reid said.

Of the 37 people who made submissions on the annual plan, 56 per cent strongly agreed with the borrowing, and 17 per cent strongly disagreed.

David Bennett was the only councillor to speak against it and said the borrowing was premature and the port's business case was questionable.

Whanganui district councillor Hadleigh Reid.
Whanganui district councillor Hadleigh Reid.

He asked whether anyone had committed to using the redeveloped port and he doubted whether the money to work on it would be needed before July next year.

Other councillors were supportive. Everyone agreed that the business case needed more work, Kate Joblin said.

Deputy Mayor Jenny Duncan said a commitment of funding by council was essential to get Provincial Growth Fund money, and a case for that was about to go forward. The total spend might reach $32m, Graeme Young said, with most from government.

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Regional Development Minister Shane Jones could make an announcement on funding for the port this year, and if that happened work could begin early, Duncan said.

Mayor Hamish McDouall said Cloudy Bay Clams, a Blenheim-based company with shellfish quota near Foxton, has expressed interest in having a base at the port, and Q-West Boat Builders wants to expand.

Fifty-six per cent of annual plan submitters strongly agreed with the borrowing to fix Whanganui's port.
Fifty-six per cent of annual plan submitters strongly agreed with the borrowing to fix Whanganui's port.

The coastal cargo carrier Anatoki is making regular visits, and owner Doug Smith is based in Whanganui now.

Whanganui risks losing both Q-West and Cloudy Bay Clams if it doesn't commit to the port, McDouall said, and the port's recreational side also has growth potential.

"It's exciting. It's a lot of money. The public is concerned, but the public is also concerned this will not happen."

Young was concerned the money would be borrowed well before work could begin. But it can be carried over for the same project, and borrowing late in the financial year would reduce the amount of interest paid before the money was used, Joblin said.

Councillor Charlie Anderson said the council had no choice but to borrow the money.

"We know [the port] is going to cost more to pull down. It's deteriorating daily. You know what they say: 'Build it and they will come'."

The borrowing was agreed to by all except Bennett.