Havelock North residents are outraged a 13.5m cell tower to be erected in their neighbourhood has been given the green light, despite them saying they had not been properly consulted.
Now, they are calling for an urgent meeting with network provider Spark and a halt on all work in the meantime.
However, Spark says it has "followed our usual notification process of notifying residents immediately adjacent to the site".
Up until 2018, under National Environmental Standard for Telecommunication Facilities (NESTF), and district plan rules, "where an activity is considered a 'permitted activity' (as this site is) neither the council nor Spark [were] required to notify local residents of a proposed new site".
In 2018 Spark, along with other network operators, adopted the Telecommunications Carriers Forum Guidelines (TCF) which were created to help network operators communicate and notify neighbours in immediately adjacent residences of planned builds.
They are required to "notify residents near a planned residential site by way of letter, meeting or direct visitation depending on circumstances".
Construction is already under way for the tower which will replace the existing 10m high streetlight pole on Te Mata Rd, adjacent to 1 Durham Dr - just metres away from a bedroom, and in close proximity to a kindergarten, retirement home and schools.
On Sunday, about 65 residents along Te Mata Rd, Durham Dr, and surrounding streets met for the second time in three days to air their concerns, and form an action group.
Councillor Malcolm Dixon who lives within 500 metres of the site and attended both meetings along with councillor Damon Harvey at the request of residents, and says a total of five letters were sent.
One letter was received by a resident who lives two doors away, while the other four were sent from Auckland to addresses more than 70m away from the location.
Dixon says the consultation from Spark has been "appalling and the residents demand that work ceases immediately until all questions/concerns have been answered by Spark at a Public Forum".
He said the regulations for telecommunications equipment override those in the District Plan and thus they are out of the control of local councils - something of which "everyone was completely unaware".
He said there is a kindergarten within 100 metres of the site. "We are all aware of the possible impact of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation (RF-EMR) as a Class 2B (possible) carcinogen on young developing brains."
According to the Ministry of Health, people living near cell sites are only exposed to weak radiofrequency fields.
This is because cell sites "are designed to send most of the radio signals away from the site, not to the area right next to it".
Stephen Fookes lives at 1 Durham Dr and bought the house in June, but up until Thursday was oblivious to the extent of the tower. He does not know whether he would have bought the house if he had been informed prior to the sale.
"I would have got to find out a lot more about what was going on."
Three weeks ago Fookes was approached by a council employee who informed him that they were "digging some holes on the verge", and that they were going to put a box 1.6m high.
"In fact, he said it was for the Rugby World Cup and there would be a box on top of the lightbulb but he didn't identify where that was going to be," Fookes said.
It wasn't until Thursday evening when one of his neighbours told him that someone had put some cardboard signs on their fence and that it was to "stop the tower".
"I knew that work was going on but I wasn't aware that it was anything different from what I originally thought it was."
Fookes says there has been "no consultation". "It creates suspicion when there is no consultation."
He says he is also concerned about the potential health effects associated with radioactivity and transmission.
Fellow resident David Addis said "something needs to be done".
He cited similar situations around the country, particularly in small towns around the North Island where cell towers were being erected and the public "seemed to be put to the wayside". Just last month protesters in the Coromandel stood guard and created a blockade at two Spark cell towers.
In a statement to Hawke's Bay Today, Spark said the Havelock North area has seen unprecedented growth for digital services in the last few years.
"As demand reaches capacity on the existing cell sites, Spark needs to invest in new 'infill' sites (usually located in areas where people and businesses need the service) to boost coverage and capacity. This is occurring in many dozens of locations around New Zealand every year.
"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."
Hastings District Council group manager regulatory services John O'Shaughnessy said an application for a certificate of compliance for a cellphone antenna was made on behalf of Spark NZ to Council on March 21 2019.
A certificate of compliance is a planning application under the Resource Management Act, and in this case, this certificate comes under the NESTF, which has replaced the District Plan rules for these types of facilities.
Following an assessment, the council's environmental consents planner determined that this application complied with all the relevant national rules, and issued the certificate of compliance to Spark on April 18.
O'Shaughnessy said the council, as consenting authority, has no ability to decline such applications if they meet all the relevant rules, nor does it have the ability to consult with or gain the written approvals of neighbours.
Harvey says: "this is Te Mata Track all over again; lack of consultation, the mayor not wanting to be involved and telling councillors on Friday that this is an issue between residents and Spark to resolve".
"This is unacceptable and shows no leadership at all. This is a community issue that affects many residents and as community leaders, we needed to front up."
Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said she was first notified of the issue after a staff member informed residents at the meeting on Friday.
She said Damon's comments had "nothing to do with the issue". "The issue is that Spark is responsible for consultation and Spark hasn't done the job well enough."
She said she is "absolutely appalled at the lack of consultation by Spark". "Council followed its due process. We weren't made aware of this and we often aren't."