Hundreds protest Wellywood sign

22:09, May 23 2011
Fail sign
COUNTER-SIGN: A group of Mt Victoria flatmates have come up with an alternative sign to Wellington International Airport Company's Wellywood sign.

Traffic at Wellington Airport came to a crawl tonight after people in more than 100 cars protested against the Wellywood sign. 

Police and security were on standby at the airport in preparation for a protest over the controversial sign.

The protest was planned because Wellington Airport had not listened to public opposition to the sign, organiser Andy Boreham said.

A computer-designed photo of the Wellywood sign on the Miramar hill.
GOING AHEAD: A computer-designed photo of the Wellywood sign on the Miramar hill.

Boreham said the demonstration was designed to hit Wellington Airport "where it hurts".

The Facebook group "Driving Protest at Wellington Airport: NO WELLYWOOD SIGN!" planned to protest the sign by staging a "slow-moving vehicle blockade" around the airport's drop off area between 6pm and 7pm today.

Wellington International Airport spokeswoman Kat Lintott said the airport was aware of the protest and it had a planned protest protocol which would be put in place.

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"Our first priority is to ensure all passengers can get to and from their flights."

"We also are happy for people to do a peaceful protest to voice their opinions, and we are happy for people to have their say, positive or negative," Lintott told NZPA.

OPPOSITION MOUNTS

Online opposition to the sign 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.

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

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.

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.

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.

COUNTER-SIGN

A group of Mt Victoria flatmates have come up with an alternative sign to Wellington International Airport Company's Wellywood sign.

Film industry worker Tim Hope and apprentice builder Sam Cameron, both 24, spent yesterday putting up the $87 plywood FAIL sign on top of their rented Alexandra Rd property, which would overlook the Wellywood sign.

"We believe our Wellywood sign is far better than their Wellywood sign. We want them to get rid of the idea altogether. It'll be visual pollution and it is a totally unoriginal idea," Hope said.

Meanwhile a Marlborough brewery has joined growing opposition to the 30m long, 8m tall Wellywood sign.

Blenheim brewery Moa is offering 15 cases of beer "no questions asked" to "anyone who knocks it down".

"Seeing as the sign itself is completely un-original it would be nice if it could be destroyed in a completely original way, so feel free to think outside the box a bit," the brewery said on its website.

As of this afternoon 16,060 people liked the Facebook group "Wellingtonians Against the Wellywood Sign", while others voiced their disdain on Twitter and other websites.

Many users described the sign as tacky, a waste of money and a likely target for vandalism.

Meanwhile, another Facebook group was shutdown after members suggested blowing up and setting fire to the sign.

The "Support WELLYWOOD" page has 9682 likes.

Lintott told NZPA today the airport would be going ahead with building the sign despite the opposition.

Moa's campaign was positive and "tongue in cheek" in a similar vein to the sign itself, Ms Lintott said.

"As long as there is no vandalism against it I think the idea is positive," she said.

She said the airport had a strong policy on graffiti and vandalism and would be "keeping an eye" on the sign once it was erected.

Airport chief executive Steve Fitzgerald earlier said: "I expect widespread support for the intent of a sign, even if a Wellywood sign isn't everyone's cup of tea. Everyone benefits from increasing tourism for Wellington."

The structure has already received resource consent and was expected to be erected on an area of the Miramar hillside, owned by Wellington Airport, in June.

The company gave no indication of just how soon the sign will be hoisted up the hillside, its colour or how much it will cost.

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 with NZPA