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Hataitai tower goes up despite neighbours’ angst

Feb 10th, 2011 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

NEW TOWER: The site of the Vodafone tower on Ariki Rd, on the side of Mt Victoria above Hataitai.

TOO CLOSE: Ian Kidman with the new tower - his house is above.

A NEW cellphone tower has gone up in Hataitai this week, against the objections of nearby residents who fear its effects.

One says the value of his home just dropped by about $180,000.

Ian Kidman, husband of novelist Dame Fiona Kidman, says the tower – on the street just below their house – has been built despite opposition from residents, including a neighbouring family with young children whose house is closest.

“If it’s safe, why is there a yellow radiation warning sticker on it?” he asks.

However, tower builder Vodafone denies there is any risk and says the tower is low-powered, out of the main view of neighbours and will send its signal away from them.

These and other points that seek to minimise the tower’s impact have been outlined to NewsWire by the company following community concerns and a meeting of affected residents.

“We are also able to use the site of an existing structure (a light pole), meaning we are replacing one pole with a slightly larger one, rather than installing a whole new structure,” says Vodafone site acquisition manager Jordan Zander.

“After several years of work, we do not believe there is a better way to cover the area,” he says.

He says this is one of the last main inner city areas of Wellington to receive updated mobile services and several years have been spent surveying to come up with the best solution.

The 3G service will provide mobile users with faster access to mobile broadband services, video calling and photo messaging.

Vodafone – whose contractors started building the tower in Ariki Rd on the side of Mt Victoria this week – says they have offered further explanations via correspondence and at an onsite meeting with local residents

“Technical requirements have already been made available to interested parties who have requested further information,” says Jordan Zander, whose full statement to NewsWire appears below.

Residents met at Hataitai Primary School late last month to discuss opposition to the new 10 metre tower, which is being built on city council land.

IMAGE: NZ Book Council

Dame Fiona (left), whose house is about 20m from the tower, says the site is too close and she thinks the consultation process was unsatisfactory.

Three residents received letters notifying plans to build the tower, but lobby group Citizens Against Telecommunications Towers (CATTS) feels this was too little too late.

Another homeowner close to the site, Murray Biggs, is also unhappy:  “As part of the community affected, I think just three letters sent to residents isn’t sufficient.”

Consultation by the large telecommunications company has been “riding roughshod” over council laws, he says. Wellington was hamstrung by existing resource consent (processes) and policies.

Council development planning and compliance officer Warren Ulusele told last month’s meeting that until there was enough opposition to existing consent laws there was little that could be done.  A forum for change could begin and be taken to government if necessary.

Green Party member Sue Kedgely said it was “shocking and distressing to wake up and find a cell phone tower next to your house”.

She said the danger and potential risks of electromagnetic resonance (EMR) are of concern to the community.

“New Zealand has the highest safe levels of EMR in the world, but it’s still unknown yet just how safe these levels of exposure really are.

“No effect, doesn’t mean no personal health effect.”

Critics of cell sites are concerned about children living under the umbrella of EMR.

“Swedish studies show children have a higher likelihood of associated disease because of their younger cells being open to resonance, more than adults,” said documentary film-maker and lobbyist David Ironside.

His 20-year involvement with cell sites and their placement in the community has led him to believe society will realise in the future that cell sites are worse than smoking, asbestos and nuclear energy.

Another speaker at the meeting, Mary Redmayne – an electro-biologist with over 20 years of study – is doing a PhD in environmental studies and does not have a cell phone or cordless phone.

“Anyone with a cell phone in their pocket or next to the head is exposed to more cell phone radiation than that from a base station,” she said.

“But base station exposure is involuntary, and if it’s close to your home then there is exposure at night, too.

“Having a cordless phone base near your bed or desk is a very similar level of exposure to being 100m from a typical cell phone base station. Wifi will add to this exposure.”

Another speaker (who asked not to be identified) said laws made by the Labour Government allowing telcos to put the sites in place – as long as they comply with local authority and council resource consent – does not marry up.

“This allows Vodafone to put in sites with little community consultation.”

Some Hataitai home owners are worried that with potentially radioactive sites blighting their neighbourhood, their house prices may fall as much as 10%.

However, Tommy’s Real Estate agent John Kettle believes this is “subjective.”

He says overhead cables can polarise some people, while others are ambivalent or not bothered at all: “Some give a damn and others simply don’t.”

Vodafone representatives were invited to the meeting and an earlier one on December 13 but none attended.

Vodafone replies

NewsWire approached the company’s site acquisition manager, Jordan Zander, who emailed back this response:

Thank you for getting in touch.

Firstly to give you some background, the site is required to provide modern 3G mobile services to this area of Hataitai.

This 3G service will provide mobile users with faster access to mobile broadband services, video calling and photo messaging.

It is one of the last main inner city areas of Wellington to receive updated mobile services.

Several years have been spent surveying the area to come up with the best solution. We began looking at the Ariki Rd option in particular in 2010.

I first sent letters out to residents in October 2010,  explaining that we had selected a site location that meet the ‘Technical objectives for the area and is in accordance with the requisite Resource Management Act (RMA) requirements.

This follows a process which includes technical evaluation of the area, detailed site design, landowner negotiations and evaluation of the RMA and District Plan rules’ and encouraged them to contact us if they had any further questions.

These letters are intended to provide a reasonable level of initial information and to initiate dialogue, if people are interested in further information.

Since this letter we have further explained the site via correspondence and an onsite meeting with local residents.

Our technical requirements which are detailed below have already been made available to interested parties who have requested further information.

When we investigate a new network site, we work carefully to balance technical requirements with environmental considerations.

We are confident the Ariki Rd location is the best option on both counts. This site, along with all our new telecommunications facilities, is designed to meet three key technical objectives; coverage, capacity and non-interference.

All of our sites also have to comply with regulations governing Resource Management and RF emissions, which require us to design the site to minimise its impacts.

This site is designed to provide coverage into the target area towards the intersection between Grafton and Hataitai Rds, Arawa Rd through to Waipapa Rd.

This is quite a small area, and can be served reasonably well by a single low powered antenna from the site location.

A particular challenge in this area is the steeply undulating terrain, so being located on the steep hill, the site has a clear view of the target area allowing for a minimal sized facility.

The site will provide additional capacity to the coverage area, allowing for more users in the coverage area to make and receive calls and have faster access to data.

The site is also designed so that it doesn’t cause interference with neighbouring sites.  Vodafone’s network is a cellular network, meaning that the network is comprised of many ‘cells’.

Each cell reuses an allocation of radio spectrum, therefore site location and local terrain are critical in ensuring that the signal stays within its desired coverage area and does not cause ‘spilling out’ or significant overlapping with other cell sites which causes interference.

The height of the site is then crucial, we have selected this location so that it will provide coverage and capacity into the target area, but not being too high that it causes interference in the network.

Interference is also avoided by designing the site to operate at very low power levels, reducing its range to a small area. Because the site is closer to the people using it, both the site and their mobile devices use much less power in operation.

Physically the site is located at the base of a high bank, with houses in the vicinity either up above, or below the steep local terrain.

The site is not within the prevailing view of homes, and has a clear view into the required coverage area. By using the terrain in this location it’s possible to build one very small, low powered site to cover the area.

RF levels are minimised because the antenna is directed in such a way over the terrain, that the main signal is sent out away from any nearby residences.

We are also able to use the site of an existing structure (the lightpole), meaning we are replacing one pole with a slightly larger one, rather than installing a whole new structure. After several years of work, we do not believe there is a better way to cover the area.

I hope this clarifies your questions, if you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact me.

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is A journalist who loves wide open spaces and fresh air, passionate about the world we live in and keeping our natural world as pristine as we can while still living happily. Responsibility is the first step. Toiti te whenua.
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  1. The vodaphone arguement states the only benefits are to vodaphone and their commercial agenda alone . It does not address the existence or necessity to have a thumping great radaiation warning sign on their tower. This is a dangerous precident that a commercial enterprise is ignorining consumer concerns and alluding to an unproven outcome that child health will not be impacted

  2. Good. Finally we’ll have good coverage in Hataitai, when before people had to wander up and down the street holding their phones up to get a signal.

  3. Greetings Kate et al – hey that’s a pretty damned good story. One point though – Warren Ulusele isn’t a city councillor – he’s WCC’s Development Planning and Compliance Manager…
    Richard MacLean – WCC Communications

  4. I find it interesting that nowhere does this article refer to the majority of Hataitai residents who have been waiting for the tower for years. Having moved to the affected area in early 2006, my family was horrified to discover just how poor the reception was–making us all but uncontactable by cellphone as well as making meter upgrades an impossibility, as these use the Vodafone towers for their signal.

    In this day and age, being contactable via cellphone is a necessity, not only in business, but also frequently for educational or medical purposes. In addition, the practical safety of being able to text or call one’s parent in an emergency (such as a bus crash, or other such accident) cannot be overstated. At the same time, it is a right to be able to choose which company one uses, and for those of us in Haitaitai for whom Vodafone best fits our needs, the lack of reception has been something of a sore point.

    In addition to this, the entire area already has Telecom signals and reception, so any fears of radiation from the Vodafone tower are illogical when they are already in place. If these residents are so worked up over the Vodafone tower, why are they not also discussing the Telecom network in the area? It does not make rational sense.

    If indeed we someday discover that cellphone radiation is in fact “worse than smoking”, then we can re-evaluate with hard, proven facts, and weigh up the positive benefits that cellphones have on society with the negative. In the meantime, CATTS can continue to not use computers, cellphones, cordless phones–all of which put out a great deal of radiation. In addition, they can dispose of their microwave ovens as well, since they put out radiation also. Avoiding sunlight may also be considered, for that matter.

    It’s about time those of us who not only live in Hataitai but also in the 21st century to finally get our long-awaited for tower. In the mean time.

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