Local government elections: Intense interest in two Buller seats

3:39 pm on 12 September 2022
A flooded Buller River in Westport, February 2022.

The two Buller constituency seats on the West Coast Regional Council have attracted the highest candidate interest of any single council ward in the country ahead of this year's local body elections. Photo: RNZ / Samantha Gee

Interest in the future of Westport and the Buller District is intense, with the West Coast Regional Council leading the country for candidates contesting any one seat in the October local body elections.

As nominations drew to a close it looked as though no one would put their name forward for the two seats on the council representing the Buller constituency.

However, a flood of last minute nominations saw 11 people put up their hands, and data released by policy.nz, using their candidate comparison tool, shows the Buller seat has attracted the highest candidate interest of any single council ward in the country.


The ward's current sitting councillors Laura Coll-McLaughlin and John Hill are both stepping down after just three years.

Coll-McLaughlin, the youngest West Coast Regional councillor and one of just two women on the council, cited professional and family commitments but has not ruled out standing again in future.

Hill cited age and the need for younger members as a reason to step aside.

Both have previously mentioned the workload, which is expected to intensify in the next three years.

A raft of legislative reform affecting local government is ongoing, with more expected on top of significant infrastructure projects.

The regional council is also charged with ushering through the Te Tai o Poutini Plan (TTPP), a combined plan to replace the existing Buller, Grey and Westland district plans.

Both existing councillors sit on the TTPP Committee and the plan is now at the submissions stage.

The council's Buller representatives also had to shoulder more work following the Westport floods.

The council oversaw the joint business proposal for a co-funded protection scheme of more than $50m and it awaits a government decision.

If approved it would take several years to implement.

Regional council chairman Allan Birchfield attributed the good number of candidates to concerns about the future of Westport, and the outcome of the proposed Kawatiri Business Case for future flood resilience in particular.

Whoever won the seat would have their work cut out to ensure a fair deal.

"The stopbanks - that would be the reason," Birchfield said.

"In their term the flood protection work will either go ahead or not."

According to Policy.nz the other most contested seats nationally are the Banks Peninsula ward for the Christchurch City Council (seven for one seat), Christchurch's Riccarton Ward (seven for one seat), and Wellington's Paekawakawa/Southern general ward, with 10 candidates standing for two seats (five candidates per seat).

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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