Our town is worthy of a sign!
3 August 2012
Te Aroha takes on NZ Transport Agency: “Our town is worthy of a sign!”
Residents of the Waikato community of Te Aroha woke up this morning to their town being blanketed by brown historical marker signs, which a team of business people affixed during the wee hours of the morning.
The signs were erected as part of a tongue-in-cheek campaign led by the Te Aroha Business Association urging New Zealand Transport Agency to erect an historical marker sign pointing visitors to the town.
Business owners and residents of the Waikato’s historic spa town of Te Aroha are going head-to-head with New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) in a last-ditch effort to get the Government agency to erect appropriate signage for the historic spa town.
The Te Aroha community wants to expand tourism in the town, with specific focus on: its thermal soda spa, the world’s only thermal soda geyser, the majestic Edwardian architecture in the historic Domain, the new Hauraki Rail Trail, the summit climb up Mount Te Aroha and its world-class mountain bike tracks.
Te Aroha Business Association President, Shaun O’Neill, says the town has been asking for appropriate signage for over a year and local businesses who are championing the request have reached the end of their tethers.
In an effort to rally support from Te Aroha residents and the wider New Zealand community for their campaign to erect a sign, locals put up around 20, 1metre x1metre signs around town this morning which are mocked up to look like brown, tourism signs and point to all the town’s major points of interest.
“We’ve become so frustrated we decided to have a bit of fun at NZTA’s expense while, at the same time, rallying support from the wider community,” says Mr O’Neill.
The Te Aroha Business Association also put flyers in letterboxes this morning alerting 4000 locals to NZTA’s refusal to erect a sign, despite the town meeting all NZTA criteria for a TS-5 Major Tourist Attraction sign through NZTA’s Historic Town criteria.
People are being asked to provide their signatures of support for erecting a sign at www.signupforasign.co.nz. Most businesses throughout town also have sign-up sheets people can sign in person.
“We live in this amazing, historical spa town that’s just ninety minutes from central Auckland, and we want more people to discover and enjoy it. That’s why Te Aroha businesses and residents have been requesting signage at key highway junctions around the region for over a year, but to no avail.
“During the recent upgrade of the SH26 & 27 intersection, our Business Association decided to put all we had behind making sure that we get signage that acknowledges the town’s tourism potential.
“Over the past year, NZTA’s excuse for why they won’t erect a sign keeps changing. First it was that our sign was too big, then it posed a safety issue, then they said we didn’t meet historical town criteria - despite the Historic Places Trust supporting our application.
“They also said low tourist numbers entered their decision not to erect a sign, despite their criteria making no mention of minimum tourist numbers required. And, another excuse was that our proposed sign location is too far away from the town.
“Our request is for what NZTA calls a TS-5 sign. Despite explicitly meeting their exact requirements for this sign, NZTA has refused to erect one.
“The amount of time and energy that has gone into our request for something so simple is bordering on the ridiculous. If you looked up the definition of ‘government bureaucracy,’ this situation would be in the book. We’re not asking for much here – we just want a sign!” explains a frustrated Mr O’Neill.
From now through to 15 August, the Te Aroha Business Association is working on gathering as much backing as possible from residents and tourists alike. It is asking people to provide their names to show support through the website: www.signupforasign.co.nz .
“We’re going to take these signatures to NZTA after 15 August in a last-ditch effort to get them to acknowledge that our town qualifies for a sign and to agree to erect and pay for it. We’ll also be providing a copy of our request to Minister of Transport, Gerry Brownlee, and Prime Minister John Key,” explains Mr O’Neill.
Mr O’Neill says he also hopes the town’s campaign will perk the ears of the Prime Minister in his role as Minister for Tourism.
“One outcome outlined in the New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2015 relates to the delivery of a world-class visitor experience. An action specifically identified is the need to provide infrastructure to support the visitor experience at all stages of a journey and includes the need to ensure that appropriate road signs are provided,” he points out.
“Our community feels that we are being let down by Government. While it makes all the right noises in terms of Government policies, when it comes to giving priority to tourism and tourism initiatives, the officials that administer the policies don’t seem to be in the real world. We have an enthusiastic community that is passionate about seeing our town prosper. We expect Government departments to support us in our efforts - not try and hold us back.
“I’d like to hear the Prime Minister’s thoughts on Te Aroha’s year-long journey to try to get NZTA to help us point domestic and international visitors to our town. Would he find this acceptable?” asks Mr O’Neill.
People wishing to support Te Aroha’s campaign for a sign can do so at www.signupforasign.co.nz .