Wanaka protester blocks new Spark cell phone tower

by Kerrie Waterworth - Dec 04, 2018

A long term Wanaka resident opposed to the installation of a new Spark telecommunications tower opposite his property on Mt Aspiring Rd is refusing to remove the digger he illegally parked on the site until Spark agrees to halt construction for two weeks to “enable full consultation and consideration of all options”.

Barry Bruce (66) lives at 185 Mt Aspiring Rd and says the 11 metre tower will be a “sore thumb in the centre of a view I have cherished for 20 years”.

He says Spark claim they consulted at length about the need for the tower but only three residents received a letter informing them of the need for the tower and that was on September 3, the same day Spark lodged an application for a compliance certificate with the Queenstown Lakes District council which was subsequently granted in early October.

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Protester Barry Bruce stood for the Wanaka Community Board

Construction started in October and since then Mr Bruce says he has spoken several times with Spark’s community engagement manager Gill Evans about Spark considering other sites for the tower but was “making no headway”. So, with the support of neighbours from Bills Way and as far away as Waterfall Creek who are also opposed to the installation of the tower, he drove the digger onto to the site a week ago as “a last resort” to stop the construction. He says police came to his house on Saturday and told him it had to be gone by 7am yesterday but he “is not about to move the digger” until Spark agrees to halt construction for two weeks and considers alternative sites.

Mr Bruce says both he and his neighbours appreciate Spark need to upgrade their equipment but they “seem to have little regard for the communities affected”.

“With plans to erect 400 cell phone towers throughout New Zealand this situation is possibly being experienced in other communities with residents finding they have little or no input or redress.

Spark New Zealand Lead Corporate Relations Partner Michelle Baguley says Spark understands Barry Bruce’s concerns, but it is a delicate balancing act to meet the growing needs of the wider community while managing the expectations of others.  

Michelle Baguley

Spark's Michelle Baguley - Spark will seek a meeting with Barry Bruce in Wanaka if the protest digger is not moved.

“The whole reason we need to build this site now is to cope not just with the growth in demand but also to be ready for the busiest time of the year. If we are unable to complete the cell site this side of Christmas then we risk being forced to advise Wanaka customers that mobile coverage may be jeopardised over the busy holiday period – a situation we are doing everything possible to avoid.”

She says the demand for mobile services has seen an unprecedented increase in the Wanaka area over the last two years. “Our engineers have indicated that our existing mobile sites in the Wanaka area are becoming congested and new equipment is required to prevent customers experiencing slow or no service, black spots and dropped calls – particularly in advance of the busy holiday period. As a consequence, temporary solutions no longer cater for this increase in traffic and there is a need for more permanent cell sites in the area - of which Mt Aspiring Road is just one.”

Ms Baguley says the decision to install the tower on Mt Aspiring Rd was “not made lightly”.

“When it is determined that a new facility is required, Spark conducts a lengthy site selection process using a number of criteria and with the input of a number of experts who select sites that are the best and most appropriate for the needs of the community. Factors include civil requirements, planning consents, radio frequency compliance, access and the maximum amount of addresses that can be served by the new tower.

“In the case of Mt Aspiring Road this work has been going on by a team of planners and RF engineers for some months trying to determine the best possible location. The site that we have selected achieves a number of our goals including providing coverage to the two camping grounds and the residential subdivision.   A large number of sites were evaluated and discounted including several other light poles, an option on private land, and alternatives further up the hill.  Some of the factors that we have to take into account are interference with other existing towers, sourcing power and fibre, avoiding shadowing from the hill, avoiding dense residential areas and meeting the coverage goals.

Tower location

The location of the proposed Spark cell phone tower on Mount Aspiring Road

“A resource consent was issued by the Queenstown Lakes District Council on 8th October.  The proposed site will be built in full accordance with all legal compliance requirements on a road reserve and is a permitted activity.  We have been working closely throughout the process with the Queenstown Lakes District Council and the Wanaka Community Board. 

“The site is a permitted activity and while the consent came with a number of conditions from Council, we were not required to ask for submissions or hold any public hearings.  Instead, as per our own industry guidelines, we contacted a few of the houses in the direct vicinity.  These residents were sent an information pack, site plan and letter of intent in both August and October of this year.  Following this initial contact we have been consulting with a number of residents frequently (and in some cases daily) via email over the last few weeks.  

“We aim to ensure that the facility is in keeping with its surroundings and as unobtrusive as possible.  We have indicated that we will paint the tower, antenna shroud and cabinets dark green to blend in with the landscape, use a shrouded antenna so that there are no visible cables from the bottom of the antenna and use a much smaller, slim antenna shroud than usual.”

Ms Baguley said if the digger is not removed from the Mt Aspiring construction site by tomorrow Spark will be asking to meet with Mr Bruce.

Mr Bruce stands by his actions saying, “in all my years, I have never done anything like this before, but I’ve never dealt with an organisation like Spark. Instead of acting like good corporate citizens, they are acting like corporate bullies."

Main Image: The protest digger blocking construction of the new Spark cell phone tower.

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