Local Focus: Havelock North cellphone tower – the dust up, then the stress

It could happen anywhere – a cellphone tower suddenly appearing on your boundary – with little you can do to stop it.

But the new tower on the corner of Te Mata Rd and Durham Drive in Havelock North took two years to install, thanks to the neighbourhood battling back.

More than 60 residents met when they found out about the tower, but it seemed there was nothing they or local Hastings District Councillors could do.

There was worry it would eventually be for the 5G radio spectrum, which some believing 5G was dangerous despite mainstream science saying it is safe.

In 2019 Hastings District Councillor Damon Harvey was called by residents to the site because workmen were present.

“They said that they were preparing the site, that they were moving forward, that they were going to be doing the next part of the stage of erecting the tower,” Harvey said.

“One of the resident’s sons just happened to drive past and said a few things out of his car window.

“Then one of the contractors said something back.

“The next thing the guy pulls over, gets out of his car, starts walking over to the guy.”

A fence was knocked over and police called to the scene with reports of a fight, but they could not find anyone involved.

Telecommunications provider Spark backed down from building the tower, which it saidwas needed to meet anticipated demand for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Spark’s Hawke’s Bay representative for the matter is Leisa Epplett.

She works in business sales for Spark but volunteered for the role because she felt it was important a local resident dealt with aggrieved locals.

“While we were permitted to do this work without consulting with them, we chose to pause and try and work with them to find a way through some of the objections that they had,” she said.

Epplett said engineers considered seven alternative sites in the area, some suggested by locals, but kept coming back to the controversial site.

“We also changed the design of the tower, ultimately to be a more discreet tower than we were originally going to install.”

More residents could have been notified and communication could have been more effective, not only about what would happen on the site but also why it was needed, she said.

Last month Spark installed the tower, with round-the-clock security and staff receiving de-escalation training.

The installation was peaceful.

The closest resident to the tower is Stephen Fookes, whose living room is just metres away.

Fookes and his wife moved into their corner house to downsize for retirement two years ago,

“It had been planned before we bought the place,” he said.

“We didn’t actually know.We weren’t notified that it was going ahead at the time we purchased the property.”

With the tower installed he said the issue was much wider than a tower on his boundary so the neighbourhood group opposed to the tower still had work to do.

“This is setting a precedent as far as we can see for the rest of New Zealand,” he said.

“It’s about the compliance issues, it’s about the arrogance of the tactical way that it’s been gone about.

“It’s not effectively about a cell tower, it’s about the ethics.

“We’re working on the rules that apply in this situation because it means that if they wanted to, they could put one outside every house in New Zealand.

“And what we’re trying to do is to get some rational thinking about the potential of that sort of thing happening.”

The tower was a permitted activity under the National Environmental Standard for Telecommunication Facilities Regulations 2016, so did not require a resource consent.

Spark applied for a certificate of compliance and Hastings District Council said it was obliged to grant it.

Epplett said she understood and empathised with residents who found the process challenging but Spark needed to improve connectivity in the area, especially with more people working from home.

Misinformation about whether the tower was 4G or 5G “didn’t help”.

“It was never designed as a 5G tower and it hasn’t been installed as a 5G tower.It’s 4G.”

The Ministry of Health said 5G is safe, the effects of it no different than 3G or 4G.

Epplett said 5G was being rolled out in other parts of Hastings but there were no 5G plans for Havelock North.

Fookes and his wife have recently been hospitalised and said they were told their illnesses could be stress-related.

They’re home now, where they’re expected to mow the roadside berm beside the tower, which had been fenced off for two years.

Fookes said he is neither willing nor able to mow the berm where the tower rises.

Havelock North resident Barry Jones said if the tower became 5G there would be another protest.

“It’s a matter of whether they can do it without us seeing it, and I believe they can.”

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