Signs debate: Walkout sets the scene for fiery hearings on CBD billboard ban

By Bernard Orsman

Words like "arrogant", "draconian" and "disgusted" were directed at a centre-left City Vision-dominated panel on the first day of hearings into a plan to ban billboards in central Auckland and reduce signs across the city.

The nine days of hearings on the bylaw changes began in dramatic style when the only centre-right Citizens & Ratepayers Now representative on the six-member panel, Graeme Mulholland, resigned, saying City Vision councillor Glenda Fryer had made unwise statements that "could be prejudicial to the process".

Glenda Fryer has been under fire from the billboard industry and business groups over her role chairing the bylaw panel.

She has slammed "really big, ugly billboards" in the city but denied holding anti-billboard and anti-sign views.

Last week, the group that controls the council announced that Glenda Fryer would chair the signs bylaw panel and Labour councillor Richard Northey the billboard bylaws panel.

Mr Mulholland said he asked last Friday who would chair the panel if someone wanted to talk about billboards and signs.

When he checked his email yesterday and had not received a reply he decided to resign.

He said his resignation was not a political stunt to embarrass City Vision. He "felt uncomfortable" continuing in the role and questioned whether the billboard and signs industries would get a fair hearing.

Glenda Fryer refused to comment on the incident.

Mr Northey said the resignation was regrettable and guessed that Mr Mulholland was under pressure from the other five C&R Now colleagues all opposed to the bylaw review.

The resignation leaves the panel in the hands of three City Vision-Labour councillors, left-leaning independent Faye Storer and urban designer Garth Falconer, who owes his place toindustry claims that the panel was "stacked" with councillors who were against billboards and signs.

Mr Mulholland was not replaced.

Newmarket Business Association chief executive Cameron Brewer said the wrong person resigned.

"It should have been Councillor Fryer. She is the one that is hopelessly compromised.

"Losing Mr Mulholland now cements the panel as an unbridled political animal with a token independent expert."

During the first day of hearings, support for the bylaw was largely left to two City Vision-controlled community boards - western bays and Eden-Albert.

The C&R Now-controlled Mt Roskill community board joined more than a dozen representatives from mostly the signs industry to give the panel a roasting.

The main criticisms were that the council had ignored attempts by the industry to work with the council on the new bylaws, had failed to enforce the existing bylaw and was "taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut".


Here's what submitters had to say at yesterday's billboard and signs bylaw review hearings:

Signs are an inevitable aspect of commerce, without which the city would not exist, but they have come to dominate great swathes of the city. Without question, it is time for the city to be reclaimed for those who live in it.

The industry and their supporters claim that they can best regulate themselves, but their track record gives no room for confidence in this. Illegal signs have proliferated during the past decade, despite the toughened rules.

Several times we have seen street trees (in front of signs) in Ponsonby mysteriously butchered, sometimes more than once.

Some would argue that billboards give colour and vibrancy to the city but this is nonsense. They add nothing to the attractiveness of our outdoor experience.

Graeme East, City Vision chairman, Western Bays Community Board

I believe the goal of preserving heritage sites and decluttering Auckland City is a good one but believe that the introduction of more restrictive bylaws is not the best way to achieve this.

The board believes the bylaws are an over-reaction and that negotiation and enforcement is a better way to reach the goal of protecting heritage sites and maintaining and improving the city's appearance.

Ward Buckingham, Mt Roskill Community Board

I attended a couple of meetings with council and put commonsense solutions to some of the issues raised. Everyone in the signs industry is incredibly disappointed not one of these suggestions made it past first base.

My company has experienced through this process a significant downturn from people reluctant to continue the business of putting signs up with the uncertainty hanging over them.

As long as there is a draconian change to the bylaws of this nature it has put the frighteners on a lot of people.

I strongly urge council not to proceed with the bylaw.

Roger Hawkins, Artcraft Signs

I'm disgusted with the process you have followed ... As an industry we were not consulted until late November. There has been no true consultation. You have made up your minds and you are going through the motions.

The current bylaw is not perfect. It is close to being right but by your inaction you have allowed it to go wrong.

About 75 per cent of signs will have to come down within 18 months. There is no impact report on all of the plastics, mostly Tanalised timber and vinyl going into the ground. There will be thousands of cubic metres of slow degrading waste that someone will have to pay to go into the ground - this when the council has a policy of waste minimisation.

Brian Fairchild, secretary, Sign and Display Association

In the eyes of most of my members this could have been effectively managed by the existing bylaws. The draft bylaw appears to have come forward without reasonable consultation with the industry and business.

This council is in danger of being regarded as out of touch, even arrogant.

Our industry body all want to live in an environment as pleasant as you do but we want to do that in a way that protects and respects their business.

The conclusion we have come to is the bylaw is unnecessary.

You are taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Keith Norris, Marketing Association

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