Local body elections are six months away and Whanganui will go to the polls on Saturday, October 8. Over the next three-year term, Whanganui District Council will negotiate reforms to the Resource Management Act (RMA), the Future of Local Government review and the Three Waters reforms as well as work on the to-do list decided on during the council's long-term plan deliberations in 2021. Liz Wylie talks to community leaders about the people, skills and priorities they think the next council needs.
Whanganui Chamber of Commerce chief executive Helen Garner said it was vitally important that councillors had sound knowledge of regional businesses and were willing to work together to recover and move beyond the challenges of the last two years of Covid-19 restrictions.
"Our business community would like to see a range of candidates with business experience step forward. We need people who understand business, and who will champion and support our business community, so that their voice is heard and considered in council decision-making," she said.
"In business, it is widely known that diversity in teams supports better decision-making. We live in a democracy, and we support and encourage our council make-up, reflecting the community it represents."
Tupoho kaumātua John Maihi said the understanding between mana whenua and Whanganui District Council still had a way to go. However, the Awa Tupua Act of 2017 and the establishment of the community governance group Te Kōpuka provided clear guidelines for everyone.
"Since the Pākaitore occupation [in 1995] we have continued to build a better working relationship with the council and it keeps improving," he said.
"However, it can be frustrating when councillors don't have a clear understanding of the progress we've made, so I would ask that new candidates familiarise themselves with the recent history."
Maihi said he would like to see a council that would continue to build on the gains that had been made for Māori.
"We need to encourage candidates who want to honour those commitments and vote for them," he said.
Sport Whanganui chairman John Unsworth said it was important for the council to implement strategies that would allow for a wide range of physical activities in public spaces.
"In particular, we would like to see the council continue to consult the community on the needs of people with disabilities," Unsworth said.
"The council needs to facilitate community-led initiatives which improve access to places where people want to enjoy exercise."
Age Concern Whanganui manager Michelle Malcolm said the council had some good services for older people living in the district.
"It is great that this council provides pensioner housing because not all local authorities do," Malcolm said.
"Things like digital inclusion initiatives and the intention to be an age-friendly community are really encouraging but it would be good to see more engagement from councillors. I know we've had two years of Covid restrictions so it hasn't been easy but, prior to that, not many councillors attended events to hear feedback from our members. It would be good if councillors could make themselves available for those opportunities to help inform their decisions."
The development of youth places and spaces was one of the council's long-term commitments made in 2021, with a budget of $386,000 allocated for the provision of a physical hub and a range of programmes to enhance the wellbeing of young people in the community.
Youth Services Trust Whanganui social worker Terry Sarten said it was great that youth wellbeing was a focus for the council.
"There also needs to be a focus on overall safety for youth," he said.
"I hear from some young people we work with that they sometimes don't feel safe moving around the city and in public recreational spaces. It would be good if the council could explore ways to make young people and their families feel safe and enjoy public spaces."
Current Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall announced his intention to stand for re-election last year and sitting councillors Kate Joblin, Rob Vinsen, Philippa Baker-Hogan and Alan Taylor have confirmed to the Chronicle that they intend to stand for re-election in 2022. Josh Chandulal-Mackay said he preferred to be "a traditionalist" and wait until July to announce his intentions. Councillor Hadleigh Reid said he does not intend to stand at this stage but might change his mind before July. Deputy mayor Jenny Duncan and current councillors Helen Craig, Charlie Anderson, Graeme Young, James Barron and Brent Crossan did not respond.
Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) and Taituarā — a national membership organisation for local government professionals in Aotearoa - will be launching the Vote 2022 campaign.
The campaign aims to encourage people to stand and vote for local councils with the aim of increasing diversity in local governance.
LGNZ deputy chief executive Bridgit Sissons said the campaign would focus on encouraging a more accurate representation of the population in local government.
"We've got a huge challenge in local government when it comes to diversity - it's not representative of the make-up of Aotearoa New Zealand, with more than 80 per cent of elected members being European or Pakeha and the average age 56-60," she said.
"Māori make up just 13.5 per cent of elected members and the percentage of Asian, Pasifika and other ethnicities has remained low. Only 40.5 per cent are women and only 21 out of 78 mayors and chairpersons are women. Young elected members [under 40] make up 14 per cent despite making up 53 per cent of our population. We need to shift this dynamic to help ensure a more truly representative local democracy."
Sissons said the second part of the campaign was a new induction programme to support newly-elected mayors and councillors and help them navigate the local government environment.
Nominations open in July and the public will find out who all their local candidates are on August 17.