Plan Change Mooted for Telecomms Gear

29 May 2009

Wellington City Council is reviewing the rules in the District Plan (the city's rule book for planning) that manage telecommunication structures - the cell towers, antennae and cabinets that keep mobile phone and broadband connections working.

The Council's Urban Development Portfolio Leader, Councillor Andy Foster, says the aim of the review is to align the District Plan rules for telecommunication structures with the new national standard introduced by the Government last year.

"The new national standard sets heights and sizes for structures on the road reserve that district plans can't override.  Our District Plan rules cover structures on private land and road reserve where the structures are taller or bigger than the national standard allows. Some of the existing District Plan rules are more generous than the standard and we are looking to make the rules the same, no matter where these structures are.

"There's been ongoing concern from some communities about the size, location and number of these structures, especially cell towers, in residential areas. We encourage residents to give us their feedback on these proposals before we formally notify any District Plan changes later in the year.  We're also working with telecommunication companies to make sure the revised rules still allow them to maintain and expand the networks.

"We need to find a balance that allows this vital infrastructure to be developed but in a way that reduces the impacts on our residents. One of the challenges is that there is often a trade-off between more and smaller towers, and fewer larger ones to get the same coverage."

One of the proposed District Plan changes is that all new telecommunication masts in residential areas or open spaces such as parks or sportsfields (called 'open space A' zones) will be assessed through the resource consent process.  Currently the Council has no choice but to grant consent in many instances. The proposed changes would increase the Council's decision-making powers.

Another proposed change is to clarify the few exceptions where the District Plan is allowed to overrule the national standard. The standard allows District Plan rules to protect listed trees, heritage sites, places recognised by the District Plan as particularly scenic - such as major ridgelines - and land on the seaward side of a coastal road. 

The National Environmental Standard for Telecommunication Facilities allows telecommunications companies to install their structures on any existing power pole or streetlight on the road reserve or install a replacement structure. The standard also regulates how the companies install antennas and cabinets on the road reserve and the noise effects of cabinets, and ensures antennas meet the New Zealand Standard for Radiofrequency Fields.  As such, emissions from antennae are not an issue the District Plan can manage.

You can get more details of the draft District Plan change from our Public Input page or by contacting the Council's City Planning team on (04) 499 4444. A formal District Plan change will be prepared once public feedback has been considered - feedback is due by Monday 13 July.