The potential for business partnerships with local iwi is behind the Wanganui District Council's plan to increase its iwi liaison budget.

The prospect of multimillion-dollar Treaty settlements being reached with three iwi has seen the council budget $150,000 for cultural advice each year over the next 10 years in its draft 10-year plan.

That figure represents an increase of $124,000 per year on previous years.

Mayor Annette Main said closer liaison would help "maximise the benefits" of what she said could be about $200 million in settlements coming to three iwi - Whanganui, Ngati Apa and Ngaa Rauru.


"It will ensure we meet the expert advice, policy and technical support requirements to build new frameworks with iwi entities," she said.

"It will also let us undertake our role in the Whanganui River settlement process and support the work required for a river valley development plan.

"In a district where nearly 25 per cent of our community are Maori, the need for healthy partnerships is obvious."

Ms Main said a big portion of the council's role required engagement with Maori.

"For relationships to be effective and beneficial to our whole community, it's essential we fully understand the unique relationship tangata whenua have with the land and water."

Asked if there was an opportunity for the council to enter into more "partnerships" with iwi and tap into settlement revenue, she said any iwi investment would have "a positive impact on our economy".

"There has been considerable research into the size of the Maori economy, and the involvement of local iwi in business is significant." At a recent council meeting, councillor Rob Vinsen questioned the need for the cultural advice budget and wanted to know what was not working with relationships council already had in place with iwi.

"There's a fear that we're heading the same way as the Auckland council, where they get cultural advice on just about everything they do," he said.


Chief executive Kevin Ross said the council did not have anyone who could provide the appropriate advice and what was being proposed was "a whole new way of working with iwi".

"It's something we are required to do and something that has been discussed at council workshops."

Councillor Sue Westwood said having access to cultural advice would let the council and iwi "get to the level we aspire".

"There are sections of the Resource Management Act that already have us consulting to this level."

Mrs Westwood said to do otherwise would see the council miss an opportunity of potential partnerships with iwi.

The council is working with iwi, central government and commercial and recreational users to develop a strategy identifying issues with the Whanganui River and action to address those issues.

A study has already begun under the leadership of Nga Tangata Tiaki o Whanganui, the post-settlement governance body that succeeded the Maori River Trust Board. A technical officers group, including council staff, has been set up and a dedicated programme co-ordinator's position has been proposed, with the council likely to financially support that role to some degree.