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War of words is a sign of the times

 

The offending sign on SH53. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

A rural Featherston landowner has been asked to remove a “Stop Three Waters” sign near a state highway because it does not comply with the Wairarapa Combined District Plan rules.

South Wairarapa District Council has deemed the sign “permanent”, and for it to be allowed under the district plan, it must relate to activity undertaken on the site.

In a letter to the landowner, South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] said Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency [NZTA] had raised concerns about the wording of the sign – “specifically the large red STOP that could cause potential safety issues along the State Highway”.

“NZTA has requested we contact you to remove the sign, otherwise, they can take independent enforcement action with their own signage policies,” SWDC’s letter stated.

The correspondence prompted the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union to label Waka Kotahi “morons” over the incident.

But a Waka Kotahi spokesperson made clear that the complaint was from the public, not them.

“In May, a member of the public contacted Waka Kotahi, concerned that “Stop Three Waters” signs in the Wairarapa district were not compliant with the district plan,” a Waka Kotahi spokesperson said.

“One specific sign brought to our attention was on private property on State Highway 53.

“This sign appeared to infringe district plan rules requiring that the sign must relate to the activity on the site to be permitted – Rule 4.5.2 (Standards)(h)(i)(4).

“As these rules fall under the jurisdiction of the South Wairarapa District Council, this complaint has been referred on to them.”

But because Waka Kotahi’s safety concerns were cited in SWDC’s correspondence with the landowner, the government roading agency has borne the brunt of criticisms from the Taxpayers’ Union, which sells the signs.

“The New Zealand Transport Authority [sic] have targeted a Featherston family with threats of enforcement action over a “Stop Three Waters” banner erected on private property,” the Union said.

“NZTA might be morons, but Kiwis are not.

“The idea that motorists will slam on the brakes when they pass a “Stop Three Waters” banner is frankly laughable.

“NZTA need to pull their head in and stop acting as lapdogs for their political masters trying to suppress New Zealanders’ ability to express their views on a radical policy proposal that will result in high water costs and less democracy.

“Any action that is taken against any one of our 180,000 subscribed supporters via NZTA relating to one of the “Stop Three Waters” signs purchased from our website will be defended, by judicial review if we must, by the Taxpayers’ Union.”

The Taxpayers’ Union also said Waka Kotahi had a history of “trying to suppress speech on the centre-right” while actively promoting pro-government messages.

“Hundreds of fantastic New Zealanders have erected “Stop Three Waters” banners in every corner of the country.

“Is NZTA going to threaten every one of them?

“The courts have been very clear that political speech is that which ought to be the most precious from a human rights perspective.

“If NZTA really wants to have this fight, we say bring it on.”

When contacted about the issue, a Taxpayers’ Union spokesperson said the council should not be acting as “NZTA’s lackey”.

“They need to exercise common sense. If someone is complaining about a Stop Three Waters sign, it’s far more likely that their real gripe is with the political message, rather than any far-fetched safety concern.”

The spokesperson said the Union had not received any correspondence from NZTA or SWDC about the sign.

SWDC planning manager James Witham said the council had been “liberal” with opportunities for temporary signs under the district plan.

Under the Wairarapa Combined District Plan, signs must “relate to the activity undertaken on the site”.

“They’ve been up for a while, they’ve had their say, we have some concerns, someone has made a complaint, so it is time to come down,” Witham said. – NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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