Legality of cell towers queried

AMANDA FISHER
Last updated 13:00 02/02/2012
Les Brien and Jacqueline Brien
Les Brien and Jacqueline Brien beside a new 15-metre cellphone tower that has been erected in Putaitai St, Stoke.

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Stoke residents are reluctantly accepting the latest addition to the town's skyscape in the name of progress, but a Nelson lawyer says construction of many new cell towers may actually be illegal.

The finishing touches to an 18-metre 2degrees cell tower on Putaitai St were completed yesterday, with construction work taking about two weeks – disrupting neighbouring business Contemporary Hair Lounge and Beauty.

The owner, Chris Downie, said he was unaware of the cell tower construction until the day before it went up, though the salon had been given a letter about a month before.

"I knew they were doing work, but I wasn't sure what they were up to."

He said the salon lost customers as the shop's main entrance could not be used, making it appear as though the salon was shut. Up to a quarter of business was from foot traffic, he said.

"It's been bit of a pain in the a..., we have lost quite a bit of foot traffic in the past few weeks."

Mr Downie said the information available in the public domain about the risks of cell towers was contradictory and confusing and he hoped there were no ill health effects from them.

"There's not a lot you can do to stop it ... I'd rather it was there where people are only exposed to it for short amounts of time, than outside a school."

Other residents said they did not like the tower, but it was the price to pay for technology.

"It's just one of those things, you have to probably accept because you have to have coverage across the country," Les Brien said.

2degrees spokesman Michael Bouliane said there were 16 other sites planned for the Nelson region, with the majority in rural or commercial areas – though four would be in residential areas.

He said they had not received any complaints about the Stoke site so far.

"Whenever we plan to do work in a community, we work closely with its council from the outset, and always work within the boundaries of the [law]."

He said the cell tower was legal and approved under the Nelson City Council's district plan, as opposed to a national environmental standard (NES) regulating cell tower construction.

But Nelson environmental lawyer Sue Grey said the NES, passed before the 2008 election, could breach the Resource Management Act, which requires national environmental standards to take account of community health. The standard means telecommunications companies do not need to consult with the public, or even the council, she said.

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Ms Grey said the Government had no idea how much damage cell towers were causing, because while some people would not be affected by them, many others were – such as those with pacemakers or electrosensitivity.

"Government's default position is you can't prove it's dangerous so let's assume it's safe and a lot of people are saying this is making me really ill, but nobody's taking them on."

- The Nelson Mail

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