Spark is facing an uprising against cellular network towers in small towns around the North Island as communities mobilise against the infrastructure popping up near homes.

A community group in the coastal town of Tairua has succeeded in putting a temporarily halt to a 15m tower in the heart of its town.

Now residents in Whangamata, Rotorua, Whitianga, Pirongia, Paeroa and Tirau are all contacting the group for advice to halt cell towers.

Tairua residents and business owners challenged Spark on decreasing property prices, health concerns and their mistrust of the Government's national standards on electro magnetic radiation.


Spark is investigating alternative sites, promising to come back to the Stop 5G Coromandel community group with alternative locations in the coming weeks.

It says there is always a small percentage of proposed new cell sites where communities may have some concern around the placement.

But demand for connectivity had increased "dramatically" in the past three years and soon the existing sites won't cope and users will start to experience issues like dropped calls, loss of connectivity to services and coverage issues.

"Telecommunication facilities need to be placed where people and businesses can benefit from them the most and that means sites need to be in areas where people live and work," Spark spokesperson Arwen Vant said.

"Spark conducts a lengthy site selection process using a number of criteria and with the input of a number of experts who will select sites that are the best and most appropriate for the needs of community users," he said.

Cell sites are built in accordance with legal compliance requirements under the National Environmental Standards for Telecommunication Facilities 2016 (NESTF).

The NESTF is a national planning framework allowing network operators such as Spark to install telecommunication equipment without the need to apply for resource consent, provided specified standards are met. The NESTF is administered by local councils.

It's a sticking point for communities around the country.


Thames-Coromandel District Council has allowed 15m 4G tower at sites on privately owned commercial land in Tairua and Whitianga and a tower is about to be installed at the Williamson Golf Course on public land leased to the Whangamata Golf Club. The Golf Club's board was consulted but there was no public notification.

"The laws are in place that let them put them up anywhere now," Stop 5G Coromandel co-organiser Glen McDowell said.

"We've had so many communities contacting us from all around New Zealand where towers are being put up close to houses and schools, and they're having meetings to try and move them away."

In Pirongia, the community has mobilised over a 20m high tower in a commercially-zoned site behind a gas station. The site is 20m from the nearest home and 108m from a school boundary.

Jane Shaw, spokesperson for the Pirongia Tower Action Group, worked for 14 years in the UK advising on drafts of environmental regulations.

She says it appears there is a loophole in national regulations governing the technology.

"Commercial land can have a tower without resource consent but there's no distance limit," she said.

"It looks like our paddocks are better protected than our communities.

"When there's mixed land use, maybe there's a hole in the regulations. There seems to be a lot of these issues coming up in small towns, and it's something that needs to be investigated."

The group is meeting its local MP Barbara Kuriger to examine whether a Member's Bill could address the gap, and has met with Waipa District Council and Spark.

In Paeroa, Rebecca Warren says the 15m 4G tower going into Myer St came as a total surprise, and she will live about 15m from it.

"They might as well put it in my backyard and give me the money.

"When I saw contractors on site I went to see what they were doing and my partner made contact with the council. They met us and explained they had given the permit for it to go on road reserve and also to go above the height of the existing street light."

Warren says people had parked cars in a bid to stop the traffic management contractor getting access.

In Rotorua, Nilamani Wright says a 15m cell tower at the Springfield Shops is "literally a few steps" from homes, and within 500m of a kindergarten, school and retirement village.

A petition against it has more than 600 signatures from Springfield Residents.

No shop owners were notified, she says, and like several other tower locations, the landlord of the block is an absentee owner who lives in Auckland.

The tower was 15m high and within 15m of residential homes in a small block of shops.

"To go above a height requires council permission, so why are these cellphone towers able to?," Wright said.

"Council policy says infrastructure must provide for the economic, social, cultural and environmental wellbeing of the district, region and New Zealand ... they're not doing that at all. They're just rolling it out."

Sharon Burling-Claridge is a community board member in Tirau, where planning rules aimed at protecting a village atmosphere include an 8m height restriction and a ban on fast food chains in town.

Spark is seeking a lease for a cell tower from the landlord of a historic pub in the centre of town.

"We know the technology is coming but we don't accept the location. It's just this railroading, almost communism way they are going about it.

"We knew they would say 'where else?' so we gave them five other locations. We don't know why they can't go into the farmer's paddocks."

She said community board members felt powerless.

"They prefer these private arrangements because they can sign a lease and no-one can stop it."

Noeline Lee in Whangamata is organising a community meeting after the concrete pad was laid for a cellphone infrastructure near homes in the Williamson Golf Course on Achilles Ave.

Lee says a notice on the golf club's noticeboard was the only notification and no one living in the area seemed aware of it.

Whangamata Golf Club manager John Freer said: "Council has provided appropriate consents to Spark. That is the information that our board took into consideration when it agreed to have the cellphone tower erected there."

In Whitianga, a community meeting on Wednesday drew about 30 people after a tower was installed in Campbell St in town and another on Moewai Rd near the Whitianga Aerodrome.

"Our concerns in this area are predominantly heath concerns," Whitianga resident Caroline Marshall said.

"We don't trust what the Government is running with. The Government say it is operating under these guidelines and that these towers that are operating are a fraction of the EMF limits but why are cities in Europe completely banning it?

"New Zealand is so gung-ho about it. Why are there thousands of published, peer-reviewed papers about the damaging effects of 5G?"

Coromandel MP Scott Simpson, National spokesman for the Environment, has been brought into the debate and has met with Spark.

He says even though telcos were operating under their regulations, they needed to engage communities in a way that was acceptable.

"What I've found is when communities and neighbourhoods stamp their feet and say 'we don't want this' the companies do engage.

"What they should do is do that before they've got people's backs up."