A plea to halt the installation of a cellphone tower in a residential Rotorua area has been ignored and the three-storey tower is up. But the Rotorua Lakes Council has said its hands were tied in stopping the installation as it was on privately owned land. Cira Olivier talks to Springfield residents about their concerns.
Springfield resident Harvey Mandeno can see the tower from bedrooms and the kitchen in his house and said his 13-year-old daughter had asked, "Dad, are we going to get cancer and are we going to get sick?" as they watched the cellphone tower go up.
Mandeno was one of more than 700 people to sign an online petition to stop the installation of the tower which Spark said would fill a "digital hole" Springfield sat in.
Spark NZ corporate relations partner Samantha Smith said Springfield had seen an unprecedented increase in data use over the last three years meaning as more users demanded services, the existing six sites would not cope and users would start to experience issues like dropped calls, loss of connectivity to services and coverage issues.
This loss of service has the potential to affect day-to-day accessibility to services and business efficiency, she said.
But Mandeno said the house, which was now about 20m from the tower, had no issues with connectivity or WiFi.
"Wellbeing is more of a priority than the speed of technology," he said.
He said he was not notified about the tower and it was within his rights as a resident and ratepayer to have been allowed to voice his thoughts.
Smith said Spark notified "a number of neighbours" about the build in January and March this year, as per the NZ Telecommunications Forum guidelines.
Mandeno said there were vulnerable people in the area including pupils at kindergartens, schools and rest-home occupants.
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"All we're asking is a guarantee to us that safety is not going to be compromised," he said.
"These big companies keep coming in and moving and pushing ... The little people don't matter."
Petition co-ordinator Nilamani Wright's concerns centred around effects on health and property values.
Wright said seeing the tower go up yesterday had left her "absolutely disappointed".
"Our voices were not heard [by the Rotorua Lakes Council and Spark]," she said. "We're all gutted."
She and other concerned residents had sent various letters requesting a public forum about the tower.
Guidough's Bakery owner Melanie Bachmann said she saw the construction yesterday morning, rolled down her window and yelled, "No!".
Bachmann's main concern around the cellphone tower was the lack of long-term research on the effects of being so close to a tower but she would not move.
"I'm not keen on being a guinea pig. I love it here, we can't all move. It is what it is."
She said many customers had come in upset about the tower going up, saying, "Nobody wants the tower here".
Rotorua Lakes Council operations group manager Henry Weston said the council and the mayor acknowledged residents' concerns but it was not something the council or elected members could influence because the tower was "permitted activity" on the privately owned site.
The Government introduced the National Environmental Standards for Telecommunication Facilities to provide national consistency in the rules for telecommunications infrastructure across New Zealand. This regulation and the district plan allow the tower to be constructed on this site.
Weston said because the council was unable to do anything, it encouraged residents to contact Spark and the site landowner.
About the laws and the area
-This activity is allowed under the Operative Rotorua District Plan and the National Environmental Standards for Telecommunication Facilities (NESTF).
-The council received an application for a Certificate of Compliance for the installation of a cellphone tower which was granted.
- The site is in a neighbourhood centre zone made up of small clusters of convenience stores such as dairies, chemists, hairdressers and takeaway stores.
-Installing the tower up to the height of 20m is a permitted activity in this zone under the District Plan and the NESTF. This does not require consultation.
-If the proposal had been in breach of either the District Plan or the NESTF it would require resource consent.