When Toni Skellon planned to open an eatery in Te Awamutu, she dreamed of a bright neon sign on the shop front.

But almost one year after opening Baked on Alexandra, her beloved pink and turquoise sign has only been switched on three times.

That's because of the "rigmarole" she and husband Nick have been through with Waipā District Council.

The hand-bent neon sign cost over $6000. Photo / Bethany Rolston
The hand-bent neon sign cost over $6000. Photo / Bethany Rolston

The hand-bent neon sign, made by Bruce Parker of Neon Fabrication Auckland, cost over $6000. Toni says neon signs are a "dying art" and an attractive asset to Te Awamutu's main street.

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She says she has resource consent for the sign, but it doesn't include being able to switch the sign on.

"We got the sign wired in hoping we would be able to use it. We thought, 'what's the worst that can happen?' Then we were told we weren't allowed to have it on," Toni says.

"We've turned it on a few times, just to have a look, and we are on our final warning. It sucks, especially when our dream for the sign was a big part of the building."

The eatery is celebrating its first birthday next month and wants to switch the sign on for the occasion.

But Toni says they are undecided about whether they will keep the sign as they would need to renew their resource consent to switch it on. It's a cost she estimates to be another $2000 to $3000.

"We don't know how we feel about having to pay for something we've already paid for. We've already spent a fortune on the sign."

She believes the council process to have a neon sign shouldn't be so difficult.

"We don't think it's very fair. I hope it's easier for future businesses," she says.

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Te Awamutu Community Board member Ange Holt. Photo / Bethany Rolston
Te Awamutu Community Board member Ange Holt. Photo / Bethany Rolston

Te Awamutu Community Board member Ange Holt says Waipā is the only council in the Waikato district that does not allow neon lighting in the CBD without a resource consent.

Last month Ange submitted a notice of motion recommending a "more accommodating" neon lighting policy.

Waipā's District Plan states "signs must not be internally illuminated, flashing, incorporate fluorescent or incorporate moving materials such as flags or be painted in colours that are used on traffic signals".

"I recommended to council that the district plan be updated to allow neon signs to a certain specification that brings them into line with other councils."

Her notice of motion was supported by the community board and council staff for further review.

Council district growth and regulatory services general manager Wayne Allan says Baked on Alexandra did not apply to have a neon sign as part of its resource consent.

"The current deposit required for this type of consent is $2100. The final cost is calculated on the actual costs incurred by council, including staff time and mileage."

He said the eatery was breaking the rules if they switched the sign on.

"Council's planning team have been in touch with them to remind them of the rules under the District Plan and the conditions of their consent," Wayne says.

The iconic Regent Theatre neon sign. Photo / Bethany Rolston
The iconic Regent Theatre neon sign. Photo / Bethany Rolston

Down the street, the iconic Regent Theatre neon light sign has been blazing for 86 years.

The theatre is listed as a heritage building, which includes the sign.

The sign, which lights up from 5pm to 9pm, pre-dates the current District Plan and has existing usage rights.

Theatre owner Allan Webb, who took over the theatre 45 years ago, has taken great care of the sign, restoring, painting and maintaining it.

"I will always do my best to keep it maintained as it has historical significance."

He says the sign is visible from Taylor's Hill and has become a Te Awamutu icon.