A rainy mid-week winter's day in the township of Tairua is quiet at the best of times for retailers, but 90 per cent of the shop owners closed in a show of solidarity as locals marched in protest at a cellphone tower being installed by Spark.
"We're asking Spark to not put the tower here... we don't want the tower in the middle of our town," said father of two Ben Rowland, who has been diagnosed with sensitivity to EMF after radiation treatment for a brain tumour.
Rowland is among Tairua residents spearheading a campaign to halt a 15m high 4G cellphone tower behind the town's Gull service station, a few metres from homes.
"We ask them, and we ask them nicely, please can you put the tower up on a hill, somewhere safe, they need to be smart about this. We want it in a place that we don't need to worry about it, and we don't lose money because of it," he said.
"We are saying what we want, and we hope Spark will listen to us. We don't want the tower in our town."
A Spark spokesperson says the company is considering next steps for the proposed cell site in Tairua.
However it maintains that the site on commercial land on the main street is the best possible location to ensure Tairua residents get the quality of service they rightfully expect.
Shops closed all along the main street for about 15 minutes and many of the owners and their staff joined the community-initiated protest at about 2pm today.
Children joined their tradie fathers who had downed tools to join in, and retailers stood beside self-employed workers, mums and retired residents at the protest in the rain with placards stating "community before corporation" and "we are not a science experiment".
It is the second protest in a week at the coastal settlement which swells in population from around 2000 to 10,000 or more in the heart of summer, increasing the pressure on cellphone infrastructure.
Residents arrived at short notice last week to get in the way of sub-contractors trying to thrust under land at the cellphone site. Police were called and the sub-contractors left without completing any work.
The consented location for the tower was a non-notified activity under national regulations governing cell tower infrastructure, gaining consent from Thames-Coromandel District Council.
National Environmental Standards for Telecommunication Facilities rules have left communities in small towns such as Tairua surprised and concerned to find out about 15m and 20m towers going up.
Protesters in Coromandel Town are staging an around-the-clock vigil to prevent contractors gaining access to a site in Tiki Rd.
Stop 5G Coromandel spokesperson Aaron Dunn said Spark had shown a "cavalier corporate attitude" by not engaging with communities at the outset with options for locations.
He believed the company was driving demand for services that required additional infrastructure, as opposed to just catering to increased demand.
Spark spokeswoman Samantha Smith said Spark notified nine residents in the immediate area.
She said 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.
"Other sites suggested by the community were less than sub optimal and would provide minimal service to a small number of users."
She said data usage had increased over 500 per cent in the last three years. Factors included the proliferation of smartphones, iPads and connected watches, the newly adopted digital curriculum in schools, as well as customers who are adopting wireless broadband to stream video content like Netflix and Lightbox in their homes.