Plans for a 20m Spark cell tower in Pirongia have come to a screeching halt following a heated community discussion this week.

But that's not to say the tower won't still go ahead.

Local residents have unleashed a flood of confusion and concern over the proposed tower. A petition to stop construction has been started, gaining more than 1150 signatures.

Construction for the tower was due to start within the next month at the rear of an industrial-zoned area near the corner of Beechey St and McClure St, behind the gas station.

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Residents say the site is inappropriate because of its close proximity to homes, businesses, Pirongia School and Impressions Childcare Centre.

There are also concerns the tower would be an eyesore, devalue properties and have negative health impacts.

In the last three years there has been growth in demand for digital services in Pirongia, with data usage increasing by nearly 600 per cent, according to Spark. Pirongia's existing site is reaching capacity.

Spark says a second tower would improve cell phone reception and cater for a growing population.

Cell towers receive and transmit radio frequency signals. As people use their phones to make calls, signals are transmitted back and forth to the tower.

The new Pirongia cell tower would be built to deliver 4G services and would be capable of upgrading to 5G, once the services are available.

Spark approached the landowner of the proposed site, Steve Rasmussen, asking if it could use his land to construct the tower.

Rasmussen said he was happy to oblige, saying it's the way forward for the future of Pirongia.

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"Spark wanted a tower in the village and we've got one of the only commercial areas in the village," he said.

"They're 20m high and I don't think many people will notice it's there — until it's brought to their attention."

"Everybody wants better internet connection, but they don't want a tower to be too close to them."

Rasmussen confirmed to the Te Awamutu Courier he would be paid by Spark for having the tower on his land, but wouldn't say how much.

Spark wouldn't comment on the same question, saying any agreements are confidential.

Spark has indicated plans for the tower might change, due to the outrage at the meeting.

About 40 people attended the meeting, which was led by Spark engagement and planning manager Graeme McCarrison and acquisition project manager Paul Kinghan.

Spark corporate relations partner Arwen Vant, who attended the meeting, said she appreciated the feedback and the opportunity to listen to concerns.

"As a result of what we heard at the community meeting at Pirongia, we will put a hold on the proposed cell tower at Pirongia, while we work with the community on their concerns," Vant said.

The 90-minute meeting had people raising their voices, cutting each other off and swearing.

Councillor Clare St Pierre, school principal Jan Cullen, president of the Pirongia Community Association John Wood and residents and business owners attended.

One woman said Pirongia was known as being a quaint village, and was fearful a cell tower would change that.

Some worried it would be bad for people's health. Spark spokesperson Lucy Fullarton said research had shown no clear evidence that mobile phones or base stations presented risks to human health.

"All mobile devices and base stations operate within national and international safety limits," she said.

"We require our mobile devices and base stations to conform to those standards fully, based on guidelines set by the World Health Organisation."

The tower would transmit around 1 to 2 per cent of the New Zealand standards for radiofrequency exposure levels.

Residents were fearful the tower might be an 'eyesore' property devaluation. But one real estate agent believed the opposite.

An example of a cell tower that would be constructed in Pirongia. The pictured tower is off Walton Street, Te Awamutu, behind the Telephone Exchange building. Photo / Bethany Rolston
An example of a cell tower that would be constructed in Pirongia. The pictured tower is off Walton Street, Te Awamutu, behind the Telephone Exchange building. Photo / Bethany Rolston

Ray White real estate agent Neville Kemp — who lives on Crozier St in Pirongia — said the tower would attract more people to Pirongia and would not devalue properties.

"The worst thing for property values in Pirongia is our pathetic internet speed," he says. "As a Pirongia resident, I would be all for it. I welcome any advances in technology that are available.

"If people don't want the tower near the gas station, they can stick it on the side of my own property."

Kemp said a tower wouldn't devalue properties.

The petition

Following Tuesday night's meeting, a petition was started and is rapidly gaining support.

The petition, published on www.change.org, was started by Andrew Carter, and is directed at Waipa District Council.

But the council said its hands were tied, and that the petition should be aimed at Spark.

The tower did not need resource consent as it complied with Government environmental standards and the council's district plan.

The petition page on change.org.
The petition page on change.org.

"Council understands residents' concerns around the Pirongia issue — exactly the same issue has played out elsewhere around the district," a council spokesperson said.

"But our hands are largely tied by legislation which is frustrating because people assume councils can fix it and we can't.

"Cellphone towers can go up on public land, including on road reserves outside people's homes for example, as of right.

"As long as standards are met, councils can rarely do anything about it. And, as is the case in Pirongia, towers can also go up on private land if the landowner agrees to it. Given that, we suggest any petition be addressed directly to Spark so they clearly understand the concerns."

Pirongia resident Clare St Pierre was cautious.

St Pierre is a Pirongia Ward councillor, but shared her personal views.

"While all of us want good performance from our mobile phones, questions get raised about the negative impacts of this technology and whether towers should be sited close to schools and in residential areas," she says.

St Pierre wondered if network performance could be similar even if the towers were located outside of urban areas.

She said research highlighted non-thermal, biological effects from exposures and she was concerned about the vulnerability of children.

"Such effects range from DNA damage, depression, anxiety, lack of concentration, insomnia and cancer."

"People made it very clear they have a range of concerns about the process and were vocal about their disappointment with Spark on the lack of consultation with them.

"Spark was clear that its tower would operate well within the safety guidelines, but others quoted doctors and scientists who want it lowered based on recent research evidence.

"I am left worried that we could be putting our faith in an outdated safety standard that could put children and others at risk.

"Surely closer attention needs to be paid to these international health experts calling for urgent revision. I want the Ministry of Health's Interagency Committee, which deals with EMF issues, to demonstrate why such calls can be ignored."

The future of the tower remains up in the air, with Spark promising it will talk to the community.

Rasmussen still wants the tower to go ahead.

"The tower is not ideal, but in the big picture it's for the good of the many. Once we find a good outcome I want to go ahead with the tower, backed by the support of the community."