Parties asked to remove election signs

The Dunedin City Council yesterday asked the Internet-Mana party to remove these signs in Caversham Valley Rd. Photo by Craig Baxter.
The Dunedin City Council yesterday asked the Internet-Mana party to remove these signs in Caversham Valley Rd. Photo by Craig Baxter.

Dunedin authorities have ordered that several election signs be removed after they were put up in the wrong places.

But political parties say there could have been more notification of changes ruling out some of the usual hoarding sites.

The signs, on a boat shed on the Otago Peninsula, beside the Caversham bypass work and at Quarry Rd, at the entrance to Mosgiel, were expected to be removed without issue after their owners were asked to take them down.

Otago Regional Council compliance manager Peter Kelliher said the council asked for a sign to be removed from a boat shed this week.

He was not aware which political party it belonged to, but said general conditions in consents for boat sheds prevented owners from erecting signs on their buildings, except in cases where a specific consent was granted.

The political parties had otherwise been behaving well so far, after the council experienced ''a few'' issues with signs on boat sheds during the last local body elections, he said.

Dunedin City Council senior planner (monitoring and compliance) Campbell Thomson said he became aware yesterday of Internet Mana signs beside the Caversham bypass, a site used previously for signs but unavailable this year because of the roadworks going on there, and at Quarry Rd, where the Green Party also installed a sign.

The council removed the site as a designated sign site because of the limited space and presence of high-voltage underground cables.

It appeared in both instances the people putting the signs up had simply been unaware signs should no longer be erected at those sites and all were co-operative when contacted, Mr Thompson said.

Internet Mana Dunedin campaign manager Alax Robinson said he had not realised the sites were not allowed this year, as they were still shown on the council's website, but would remove the signs.

Green Party spokesman Brian Dixon said party staff had also made ''an honest mistake'' and had taken the sign down.

It was ''unfortunate'' there was a discrepancy between what the council said were legally permitted signage sites under the district plan and its cautionary advice regarding issues at some of the locations, he said.

The party's staff had tried to clarify the matter several times and were repeatedly referred to the website, which was confusing, he said.

''It is important the public are provided with accurate and up-to-date information on such matters and that any necessary precautions and safety issues are adequately highlighted.''

Mr Thomson said these were the first two incidents of signs being erected in the wrong place this election period.

Although maps showing the no-longer-available sites remained online until the council had officially reviewed its district plan, they were accompanied by an advisory note outlining why the sites could no longer be used for signs, he said.

People could erect signs in other spots if they successfully applied for resource consent.

Signs inside buildings did not necessarily violate rules, because they might not technically constitute ''signs'' as defined in the council's district plan or electoral regulations, he said.

Complaints would be considered case-by-case, he said.

Signs may be placed for six weeks before elections, and must be removed by midnight the night before the election.

Invalid bylaws

As was  shown in court last week the electoral act explicitly overrules council bylaws. Section 221B(10(a) explicitly states that the council cannot limit signs to less than 60 days (the council's 6 week limit mentioned above is illegal). The electoral act also states that the council cannot tell you what form your sign can take - if you and your spouse disagree on who to vote for you may both put up a sign outside your house despite what the DCC bylaws currently state.

The electoral law also says that you cannot charge someone to put up a sign on your property.

Of course the Bill of Rights Act also explicitly states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form. " - Something that couldn't be more important than during an election. Sadly the city's bylaws are very far behind the times.

Council  employees should not be giving public advice that is contrary to the law of the land.

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