Suzie Christensen, Lord Howe Island Board, The Lord Howe Island Signal
The Lord Howe Island Board has received a proposal from Telstra to install a mobile phone microcell, funded through the blackspot program.
The tower is to be built on crown land, and as such, the Board’s role is to determine whether or not to grant Owner’s Consent.
At its September 2022 meeting, the Board requested management undertake effective consultation to inform its decision.
The methodology used mirrors that used for Development Applications and other Owner’s consent determinations. The proposal was placed on the LHIB website, and residents notified of the opportunity to make a submission via the Board’s standard communication platform, the Householder. The householder is distributed electronically or in hard copy by previously advised preference of the recipient. They are also posted on noticeboard, and the invitation was extended via the local newspaper The Signal.
In addition, engaged local residents shared the Householder information via the LHI Community Facebook page, and conducted their own survey via Survey Monkey.
The submission period was open until the 18th November.
39 Individual Submissions were received
16 of the 39 (41%) individual submissions were in favour of the proposal, and 23 (59%) against. 3 of those against are also included in the petition figures
46 people signed a petition against, stating:
I am opposed to the introduction of Telstra’s mobile phone service because it will disturb the peace and tranquillity of the Island which is valued so much by residents and visitors. At least 8 of those against are also in the group of 46 who signed the petition have also responded to the survey.
131 survey responses were received
90 of the 131 responses (68%) were not in favour. Half didn’t want to be identified, so we are unable to identify duplication across methods for those individuals.
Of the 131 Survey respondents, only 61 were happy to be identified, and 16 had completed either the online survey or made a formal submission as well.
The data indicates 135 uniquely identified persons who formally responded.
Most are residents, though some are tourists (petitioners) and some off -island persons who strongly identify with the island.
70 of those 135 (51%) are against the proposal.
There are a further 70 survey participants who may or may not be additional respondents, from a sample that polled 68% against.
The 2021 census identified 368 adults as resident on Lord Howe, thus across the various methods of consultation around 30-35% have participated in the consultation, noting that some respondents were non-residents. That response rate is considered statistically relevant.
What people said
People opposed to the installation on the basis of:
Lifestyle – 55/135 (40%) 85/130 (68%)
Tourism impact 93/130 (72%)
People in favour of the proposal on the basis of business advantages, safety and unreliable landlines. One argues for the proposal from a guest’s point of view. A majority of people who completed the survey disagreed that the proposed installation would improve emergency responses, and suggested the current radio service is adequate, and will continue to have much better coverage than the mobile phone service.
Most people, including those in favour of the proposal, did not consider the coverage of a single tower adequate, and were not in favour of a service that didn’t cover at least the settlement area. Many people believed that the future of mobile phone service for Lord Howe would be better facilitated by increased wi-fi coverage, and offered alternative technology solutions and or the tower or towers being located in what they considered better locations.
One submission made a strong case for referring the proposal to CASA, and Air Services Australia and suggested that an impact assessment may be required against the World Heritage status of the Island and surrounds. (*NB. Downer was advised to seek these approvals but indicated that they would happen after the Owner’s consent is granted)
Residents of Lord Howe Island are protective of their unique way of life, and a majority wish to preserve that. Not being contactable is enjoyed by some tourists.
Those in favour of improved connectivity support that for business, safety and reliability reasons. Those people could be satisfied with improved wi-fi connectivity, which would be supported by the majority of respondents not in favour of the mobile phone microcell and tower as proposed.
Data gathered through the community consultation process, suggests that before approving Owners Consent the Lord Howe Island Board should
- Investigate to potential for improved and networked wi-fi solutions, and explore a business model that could provide that
- Require Downer, on behalf of Telstra, to demonstrate compliance with CASA, Air Services Australia and World Heritage requirements.
This article appeared in The Lord Howe Island Signal, 31 December 2022.