Protesters are staging an around-the-clock vigil at Coromandel Town and a protester grabbed the keys from a subcontractor's digger in Tairua as small communities revolt against Spark installing cellphone towers in their towns.
Police were called in the past two days to Coromandel Town and Tairua, where subcontractors Valley Thrusters left this afternoon when a dozen people from the community mobilised into action at short notice.
Community group Stop 5G Coromandel rallied residents within minutes of the digger arriving. The subcontractor to Spark, which was not warned to expect any protests, then left without completing any work.
In historic Coromandel Town a roster has been drawn up of locals to keep watch at the Tiki Rd site, where Spark began preparation work on Saturday for a 20m tower behind Coromandel Smoking Co.
Jan Autumn, a Coromandel-Colville Community Board member, says the site is on the boundary of a heritage overlay and people are angry there was no notification.
"We didn't find out until somebody was walking past and saw this pole. They asked what they were doing and were told it was for a cell tower. It just went wild from there.
"There's been people coming from various places. We have a roster of people around the clock. We're stopping them from pouring concrete."
She says there were many more appropriate sites if the company had come to the community for input.
"They may have permission but what about the moral issue? We can all work together here and it can be a win-win. People have offered nearby industrial sites already."
In Tairua, protester John Drummond was knocked by the digger as he stood in its way on the contractor's truck.
"I was just thinking of stopping it really," he says.
"They then ran out a little digger and started to dig a hole and we blocked them. They tried to go around the back but people prevented them and at that stage I thought it was getting a bit dangerous, so when I had the chance I took the key out of the digger."
Spark had promised to consider an alternative for the 15m cell tower on the main street behind the Gull Service Station after community backlash.
The site backs on to residential homes and is within 100m of residents with sensitivity to electro magnetic frequencies.
The company told Stop 5G Coromandel it would go ahead with the service station site because alternative locations on the Tairua Golf Course did not have the coverage required.
Under planning laws introduced by Government, operators such as Spark can install telecommunication equipment without the need to apply for resource consent, provided specified standards are met. The NESTF planning framework is administered by local councils.
"We do want to build this cell site because we know how critical it is for Tairua as the area is already experiencing dropped calls and loss of connectivity to services," Spark spokeswoman Arwen Vant said.
"The loss of service has the potential to affect day to day accessibility to services and business efficiency, as well as cause connectivity issues during emergency situations.
"Last year we had to put in a temporary cell site to accommodate data usage from the upswing in users, as Tairua and the surrounding region is a tourism destination.
"However, we know that putting in a temporary cell site isn't a long-term solution for Tairua as the upswing in data usage is a trend we're seeing across the whole year, hence why there is a need to build a new cell site."
She says work had to be halted on the Coromandel Town site due to workers being blocked. It was commercially zoned and privately-owned land with no dwellings nearby.
"A new cell site is needed because demand for data usage has increased by over 1200 per cent in the last four years in Coromandel Town. We are seeing this unprecedented growth in demand for digital services in communities.
"Given the cost of a new cell tower is usually in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, this is not a decision we take lightly – but we need to do it to ensure our customers keep receiving the quality of service that they rightfully expect."