Otago man Barry Bruce is taking on Spark in a David and Goliath battle.
An 11m-high cell tower is under construction on Mt Aspiring Road but locals are not happy about its location and less happy about the lack of consultation.
“Spark claims to have consulted at length but their application for a compliance certificate from QLDC seems to have been lodged at the same time only a limited few residents were advised,” said Bruce.
“Despite many requests to Spark from affected residents to delay progress while further consideration and options are examined, Spark have chosen to ignore the requests.”
In an effort to encourage Spark to delay installation Bruce has parked a digger on the site.
“We as a community have been lobbying Spark for over a week to have a chat. I had emailed, and been battling away on my own, then the neighbours joined,” said Bruce.
“I assumed everyone would have been consulted but it turns out [Spark] only wrote to three neighbours.”
Spark’s documentation states that ‘extensive consultation’ has taken place, however Bruce believes ‘three letters does not extensive make’.
Bruce’s plea is simple: “Would you please halt progress and come have a chat. If it’s the only option then obviously we accept the need for these facilities but let’s see if there are other options available that are not as obtrusive.”
Michelle Baguley from Spark responded that, “These decisions are not made lightly and months and months of work is done by our teams and specialist engineers to source viable and appropriate locations for new telecommunications equipment. Every possibly alternative has been thoroughly evaluated.”
“The demand for mobile services has seen an unprecedented increase in the Wanaka area over the last two years. Spark mobile customers have used six to seven times more mobile data in this period. In the past this demand was very seasonal however it is now year-round although of course reaches a peak over the holiday period.”
According to Spark, when it is determined that a new facility is required Spark conducts a lengthy site-selection process. 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 radio frequency engineers for some months trying to determine the best possible location.
"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,” said Baguley.
In the meantime, Bruce has been approached by Police to remove the digger and QLDC sent a parking warden to give him a ticket. He’s dreading the tower which is “smack bang in the middle” of his views over Rippon.
But Spark said the whole reason they need to build this site now is to cope not with just the growth in demand, and 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.”
So will Spark show up for the chat that Bruce is asking for? No. Michelle said, “While I appreciate and can understand Barry’s enquiry—months and months of research went into searching for an appropriate site and at least half a dozen other alternatives were evaluated and eventually discounted. No decision on a site is ever taken lightly.”