Battlelines drawn in Wellywood war

BRONWYN TORRIE
Last updated 05:00 23/05/2011
A computer-designed photo of the Wellywood sign on the Miramar hill.
Dominion Post
GOING AHEAD: A computer-designed photo of the Wellywood sign on the Miramar hill.
Fail sign
CRAIG SIMCOX
COUNTER-SIGN: A group of Mt Victoria flatmates have come up with an alternative sign to Wellington International Airport Company's Wellywood sign.

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Wellywood sign gets thumbs down from residents

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Protests against the controversial Wellywood sign are gaining momentum, with calls for blockades and boycotts and threats to deface or destroy the sign.

But Wellington International Airport remains defiant and stands by its decision to mount the Hollywood-style sign on the hillside next to the Miramar Cutting.

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"I expect widespread support for the intent of the sign, even if a Wellywood sign isn't everyone's cup of tea," chief executive Steve Fitzgerald said this weekend.

Online opposition has gone wild. Several Facebook pages have been launched in protest, while hundreds of comments have been left on dompost.co.nz.

Legally, the only option left for opponents is to take a judicial review to the High Court on the resource consent process. Wellington City Council officers deemed the consent could be granted without public consultation because the sign met district plan guidelines.

Meanwhile, one Facebook page was shut down after plots were put forward to blow up and set fire to the sign.

A protest involving people driving slowly through the airport drop-off area, in a bid to disrupt airport operations, was being planned for tonight. Several people online have called for a boycott of airport stores.

The eight-metre-high, 30-metre-wide steel sign, understood to cost several hundred thousand dollars, is intended to be ready for the Rugby World Cup in September.

Mr Fitzgerald said on Saturday that the original concept, which was first announced in March last year, was the best fit and would help put Wellington on "everyone's bucket list".

"The film industry is a hugely significant contributor to our economy, and it is vital to promote and support it if we are to see continued growth in our region." He declined to comment yesterday.

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Wellington City Council owns 34 per cent of the airport but will not contribute funding to the sign. Investment company Infratil owns the rest, as well as the land where the sign will be built.

Deputy Mayor Ian McKinnon, the council's representative on the airport board, said he was bound by its collective decision and could not comment.

Mayor Celia-Wade Brown said last week that she did not support a sign of any kind. She could not be reached for comment yesterday.

A source working on a current film in Wellington said the sign was insulting and diminished the city's reputation for creativity.

"All the guys I know that are working on the film are like, `Oh my God, what a cringe', and that's from people in the industry.

"We do some very creative stuff; there's some very talented people out there. For someone to be blowing our horn in an unoriginal way is really a slap in the face."

Infratil director Lloyd Morrison said that a backlash was to be expected but the city had to keep pushing boundaries to get noticed.

"Of course, there are some objectors to this idea – the same have complained about naming the airport Wild at Heart, about the design of the Rock, who don't like Snapper, or the brand of the buses – Go Wellington – and who don't understand Z is for New Zealand."

Former Wellington mayor and architect Sir Michael Fowler penned his support in a handwritten letter to The Dominion Post yesterday.

He wrote that, since its conception, "I've believed it to be clever, witty and relevant and its critics dumb, humourless, totally irrelevant and probably Irish".

He added later that he was "appalled" at the widespread dissent about the sign, given that critics were given the opportunity to come up with a better idea and could not. "I hate them with a loathing."

It would be an excellent introduction for people flying into town, Sir Michael said.

"It's appropriate, it's humorous – which is quite lacking in the critics."

The airport's Facebook page received a tirade of insults at the weekend and was criticised for deleting negative comments.

The Story So Far

2009: Wellington International Airport investigates building a monument on Miramar Peninsula on a piece of land it owns.

February 2010: Wellington City Council officers grant a non-notifiable resource consent for the project.

March 2010: The Wellywood sign is announced with backlash making headlines in India, Britain and the United States. Multimedia company Skull and Bones sets up a site where thousands of people created their own, often uncomplimentary, signs.

April 2010: The airport puts the sign on hold and calls for other ideas on its Facebook page.

November 2010: Wellington Deputy Mayor Ian McKinnon appointed to airport board as council representative replacing former mayor Kerry Prendergast.

January 2011: Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown speaks informally to airport officials about axing the sign.

May 2011: The airport announces the Wellywood sign will be built in time for the Rugby World Cup in September.

- The Dominion Post

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