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By ROBYN BRISTOW

Ross and Bronwyn Minehan want property owners to be aware that all it
takes to have a cellphone tower built on your back doorstep is the thumbs-up from a property owner.

They discovered last week that one was being built next door, when a digger turned up to do the ground work for the tower, just a metre from the boundary of their lifestyle block at Ashley.

They have no beef about a cellphone tower being urgently needed in the area, but feel there should have been consultation with neighbours over its siting.

Efforts to get it moved further along the boundary, or further into the landowner’s┬áproperty so trees could be planted to mitigate its effect, were unsuccessful, despite negotiating with Spark, the Canterbury Street property owner, and the Waimakariri District Council.

“One of those parties should be responsible for consulting with neighbours,” Bronwyn says.

She says they and their two neighbours will now be faced with the expense of having to plant, fence and provide water for trees on their own properties to hide the intrusion of the tower – a task which will cost thousands of dollars and take years for the trees to grow tall enough to hide it.

A visit to Canterbury Law confirmed adjoining owners have no say in where a
tower goes, unless they are within 50 metres of a residential property.

The 20-metre tower is about 500m from the Minehans’ Lower Sefton Road home, and they get to look straight at it, ruining their rural vista.

“If it had been there when we bought our property we would not have moved here,” Ross says.

The concrete has been poured for the tower and Ross and Bronwyn are now
resigned to not being able to have it shifted.

Spark corporate relations spokes woman Sarah Putt, says the company
believes it has acted in good faith in carrying out a legally compliant and
permitted activity on private land, where the landowner has consented.

The need for the tower is driven by demand, Ms Putt says, due to the increase in population and the use of devices such as smartphones, iPads, and the newly adopted digital curriculum in schools.

“Many users in the Ashley area are sitting in a `black spot’ or `digital void’ due to capacity being reached by the existing cell site.

“This means they are actively experiencing significant issues making
phone calls and connecting to the internet.”

There were also delays with texts, and streaming services were interrupted.
The search for a site began in mid-2018, with many sites examined and private landowners approached.

Ms Putt says the Canterbury Street site proved most suitable as others had trees that blocked the signal, the land dipped, or there were building issues.

Spark negotiated with the private landowner so it was in the best place for
the landowner to continue to use their land to the “best possible advantage”.

The site also met all technical and network objectives.

“The private landowner has repeatedly confirmed that this is their preferred
location to allow them the ability to maximise their land use.”

Cell sites have to comply with national environmental standards for
telecommunication facilities (NESTF) – a planning framework that allows network operators such as Spark to install telecommunication equipment without having to apply for resource consent, provided specified standards are met.

Under NESTF, which allows telecommunication infrastructure to be built no closer than 50m from a residential property and, under district plan rules, where an activity is considered a “permitted activity”, neither the council nor Spark are required to notify neighbours of a proposed new site.

Ms Putt says the Ashley cell site is much further than 50m from any residential properties.

“Given that new cell sites typically cost several hundred thousand dollars,
scoping and final selection is something that Spark takes very seriously.”

Having undertaken a robust process, Spark reached the point where physical
works started last week, she said.