Compromise over 'h' in Wanganui
By TRACY WATKINS and SIMON WOOD - The Dominion Post
Last updated 12:33 18/12/2009

Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson's compromise decision over putting the "h" in Wanganui has been welcomed by figures on both sides of the name debate.

Mr Williamson said the official geographic name for the city would be the alternatives Whanganui or Wanganui.

He had decided to assign alternative names so people had the option of choosing whichever name they preferred.

However Crown agencies would spell the city's name as Whanganui and updating signage and other material over time.

"During extensive consultation it became clear to me that local iwi were seeking an acknowledgement of something that is very important to them. They wanted recognition and respect for their history and their language.

"It was equally clear that the majority of the city's residents did not want change forced on them."

Ken Mair, spokesman for the iwi that had fought to include the "h", Runanga o Tupoho, said his people were "delighted" by the decision and anticipated within 10 years the city would be widely known as "Whanganui".

Wanganui mayor Michael Laws said he was pleased the minister had not wholly adopted the "stupid decision" of the Geographic Board.

He said today's result was inevitable and reflected the status quo, which was that both spellings were freely used in the city.

He also described it as a victory for the referendum process, saying if Wanganui District Council had not held referendums to gauge the public will then they would not have had any evidence to take to the minister.

"This issue wasn't just important to Wanganui, but it was important to New Zealand and all New Zealanders."

Maori Party co-leader and Te Tai Hauauru MP Tariana Turia said today's decision was "uplifting".

It was now time for Wanganui people to move on together and ensure that the integrity of the language was upheld so "we can all be proud of the name given to this area by an ancestor over 600 years ago".

The spelling of place names and the correct use of te reo Maori was part of the ongoing negotiation and reconciliation between Maori, Government and communities, Mrs Turia said.

"I like the approach, which encourages Crown agencies to respect the special relationship that mana whenua have with this area, while also allowing time for the practical changes to occur - the letterhead to change, new signs to be erected".

The community also needed time to "rebuild our relationships" after what had been a polarising debate.

Mr Williamson said offering an alternative naming "respectfully" acknowledges the correct spelling of the Maori word "Whanganui" while also respecting the views of those who have always known the city's name to be spelt "Wanganui".

Mr Williamson said he was mindful of the potential disruption and transition costs associated with a name change but he was also mindful of the fact that New Zealand had two official languages.

It was his expectation that all official documents would be able to use either form of the spelling. But Crown agencies would be expected to move to the name "Whanganui".

Crown signage, publications and other official documents would be updated as part of the normal business cycle to ensure the name change did not incur any extra cost.

The change would require a minor technical correction to current legislation would be required and that would happen in the New Year.

The decision would be formalised and gazetted by the New Zealand Geographic Board.

From here.