Outcry in Upper Clutha over 'eyesore' 12-metre-plus cell towers

by Lauren Pattemore - Mar 05, 2024

Members of the Wānaka and Hāwea communities are "disappointed" their input has not been sought on the location of new cell towers popping up across several neighbourhoods.

The latest tower was erected outside Pembroke Patisserie in the Albert Town shopping area last week, installed by digital infrastructure company Fortysouth, also known as Aotearoa Towers Group. 

Fortysouth has another planned for Lake Hāwea, and those opposing its location have created a petition calling for an alternative spot for it.

Under government rules, telecommunications infrastructure can be built without public consultation as per the National Environmental Standards for Telecommunication Facilities Regulation 2016.

Despite this, a spokesperson for Fortysouth says the company does still choose to consult with nearby residents as part of its own policies. In this instance, the company says it reached out to local commercial businesses in Albert Town.

However, Pembroke Patisserie owner Kirsty Schmutsch says she never received any direct communication about what she is calling an "eyesore".

Instead, information was passed onto her by her landlord.

"He wasn't happy either."

Mrs Schmutsch says if she'd been contacted, she would have asked the company to put it elsewhere. 

"I'm just a bit disappointed. I know infrastructure has to go somewhere, but it's front and centre of our view. It's not very well considered.

"There was no opportunity to have a say."

Mrs Schmutsch says a few of her regulars have mentioned the new tower when coming into the cafe, but she hopes it'll blend in and won't be noticeable after a while.

The Fortysouth spokesperson tells Crux Albert Town has experienced significant growth in the number of people using mobile services, and it "worked hard to find a solution".

"We believe the location, outside the commercial shopping area, is the best available to us."

The company also sought feedback from the Wānaka-Upper Clutha Community Board and the Queenstown Lakes District Council's Wānaka councillors, the spokesperson says. 

"No negative feedback was received and improved coverage was welcomed."

Meanwhile other members of the Albert Town community took to social media to voice their dislike of the new tower.

'Lovely kitchen views', one resident captioned sarcastically in a post on a local Facebook community discussion page.

One nearby resident posted a photo taken from their kitchen window, calling their new view "hideous" and questioning who authorised the installation.

Now-councillor and Wānaka resident Barry Bruce is against the lack of consultation required on the location of new cell towers and, in 2018, drove a digger in protest onto the planned site of a Spark tower on Mt Aspiring Road in a bid to halt construction.

It was an action that he says "ultimately didn't have any influence on the situation".

He says following opposition from himself and other locals, the service provider took feedback from the community, but says it was a "token gesture".

"After that, they just carried on."

Over in Lake Hāwea, councillor Cody Tucker says there is some opposition to the cell tower planned to sit beside the town's fire station.

At the site, there is a sign saying, 'Say no to 12.5-metre cell tower HERE'. 

The planned spot for a cell tower on the corner of Noema Terrace and Rosella Lane in Lake Hāwea.

The sign asks readers to contact the council or add their names to an online petition - which has collected 176 signatures since November.

Councillor Tucker understands that "no one wants to live next to a cell tower".

However, he says plenty in the community, in particular small businesses in the town and residents working from home, are supportive of the tower and improved phone reception.

He's spoken with the company directly, and says it attempted to construct a tower on Mount Maude, where other similar towers are already located, but it "couldn't reach an agreement".

Main image: The new cell tower, erected last week on Alison Avenue in Albert Town, outside the Pembroke Patisserie.

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