Tears and a clear message of relationships damaged greeted a vote by Wanganui District Council that quashed a bid to change the spelling of the Wanganui district.

While the "H" can be used in the spelling of the Wanganui urban area, a motion to have that extended district-wide was lost 7-6.

As soon as the vote was made, local Maori made it clear to councillors that formal relationships between iwi and council would be reviewed.

And it was a decision that had some councillors and mayor Annette Main visibly upset.

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Iwi representative Ken Mair told the meeting the decision would have "major implications" on dealings with the council.

Iwi have cancelled a scheduled meeting between council and the Tupoho working party set for today but, more worryingly, Mr Mair said iwi would reconsider all its working relationships with council.

Prime among these are the recently signed deal to operate the port as a joint venture and a similar partnership at the resource recovery centre.

"If you cannot respect our name, then you need to understand our response to this decision," he said.

He said local Maori at the meeting were disturbed by some of the positions taken by councillors and said they did not understand how important it was to Maori to have the district's name spelt with the "H".

The motion councillors voted on was to ask the Geographic Board to consider a request to alter the spelling of the name Wanganui to Whanganui.

Former MP Tariana Turia was at the meeting and said it was not about asking the council to make any decision but rather asking the Geographic Board.

"This is about our identity and how we respect one another and how we go forward," she said.

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Some councillors who voted "No" to the motion said they supported the change to the spelling but felt it was a decision that needed wider input from the community and was not a decision for council to make alone.

Those supporting the bid said it was a chance to right a wrong that had been in place for more than 150 years.

Ms Main said it was time for the council to take a lead.

"This is a way for our community to become united. We're not demanding that everyone must change because we know that will not happen. But there is change happening and the council can lead this community."

-The Chronicle will have full coverage of the debate in tomorrow's edition.