On Thursday night 23 Whanganui district council hopefuls fronted voters at the War Memorial Centre for the election's major meet the candidates evening.

Abe Leach reports

The event was opened by Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall who, having been re-elected unopposed, used the opportunity to speak about his plans for the district.

He said he intended to retain pensioner housing and continue to work with housing providers around social and emergency housing.

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Climate change was another area of focus.

"It was a key priority last time I stood but I haven't, to be honest, had the numbers to get the dedicated climate change resource that I wanted," he said.

"This year I will be pushing for every council decision to have a climate change lens placed over it.

"We must talk about adaptation to what is an inevitable alteration in our weather, flora, fauna, and the way we live."

Candidates had three minutes to introduce themselves followed by a Q&A session. Photo / Abe Leach
Candidates had three minutes to introduce themselves followed by a Q&A session. Photo / Abe Leach

The council candidates were the next to take the podium and each had up to three minutes to speak.

Afterwards host Dave Hill, from the Wanganui Ratepayers Association which hosted the event alongside Grey Power opened the floor to questions.

Audience member Noel Simpson, who moved to Whanganui two years ago, views Whanganui as a friendly town but said he was shocked at the some of the negative local response to refugees and asked which candidates were opposed to refugees being placed here.

"I got no problem with refugees coming here but when they're taking homes of our own kids I have a problem," Phillip Reweti said.

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Ross Fallen said refugees come from dire situations and it was Whanganui's turn.

"Over 50 years we've taken refugees into our large cities, it's simply our turn.

"We have never experienced refugees in Whanganui. What a golden, golden opportunity to meet so many people from so many other cultures, welcome them to Whanganui and support them."

A question that was emailed in and read by host Dave Hill asked if candidates were in favour of borrowing money to cover any potential shortfall in funding to rebuild the Sarjeant Gallery.

Josh Chandulal-Mackay, Matt Edmonds, and Helen Craig were the only candidates to raise their hand in favour.

Chandulal-Mackay said a funding pool of $28m had been secured, made up of $6m from the Department of Internal Affairs, $10m from the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage, and a further $12m from the Provincial Growth Fund.

"When that $10m was allocated from the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage, a condition of getting that funding, requested by the Minister of Conservation herself, was that council agrees to underwrite any shortfall," he said.

"So the reason I raised my hand is that council has already passed a recommendation to underwrite a shortfall."

Chandulal-Mackay said fundraising is continuing for the next two years, and that an aim of council is for no additional funding to be required from the ratepayer.

After the event voters met with candidates outside the chamber. Photo / Abe Leach
After the event voters met with candidates outside the chamber. Photo / Abe Leach

Another question from the audience was around addressing Whanganui's traffic congestion and how the candidates would fix it.

"The best thing you can do is to take public transportation, ride a bike or to walk places," Dani Lebo said.

"I think our council should be working to encourage our ratepayers to do those things rather than fixing problems for people who feel they should drive their own individual cars everywhere."

An emailed question asked candidates for their thoughts around high costs to dump rubbish which resulted in an increasing in illegal dumping.

Jo Meiklejohn said it came down to competition.

"Waste management provides most of the transfer for us; they own both of our transfer stations and have their trucks along with two other trucks picking up our rubbish.

"We have to be more inventive, we have to try and create the situation of competition so they don't hold us at ransom for what we have to pay.

"We've got a really good resource recovery centre, perhaps we start looking if that can do extra work there."

One audience member asked about freedom camping which was picked up by Brent Crossan, who had spoken about increasing tourism but also believed there was a freedom camping issue in the district.

"I believe if you're going to come for a night or two then passing through, [stay] by all means," he said.

"But I've seen some campervans that have been there for a month plus, which is taking money out of motels and holiday camps.

"If we're going to have freedom camping maybe we need to stipulate rules around it, one or two days is no problem, one or two months is a bit of an issue."

A "Vote Day" takes place on Saturday October 5. From 10am to midday ballot boxes will be at Rangiora St library, Gonville library, Aramoho shopping centre, Whanganui East shopping centre, Springvale Garden and the river markets.

A ballot box will also be at Trafalgar Square shopping centre from 1pm to 3pm.

Voting closes on midday October 12.

Candidates Charlie Anderson, Hadleigh Reid, Graeme Fothergill, Kiritahi Firmin and Jill Sheehy were not at the meeting.