Members of a group aiming to halt the introduction of the 5G cellular network in Nelson have challenged a council stance it was powerless to stop it.
The Nelson City Council decided at a meeting in December to stage a public workshop for government representatives and members of the community interested in 5G.
5G is the fifth generation wireless technology for digital cellular networks, designed to eventually replace, or at least augment 4G technology.
The council's environmental manager Clare Barton said government representatives declined the invitation to today's meeting, but information was sent from the Prime Minister's chief science adviser.
Barton told today's meeting that the government sets the regulatory framework around 5G, and the national standards for health and the environment.
So far the council had not received any requests from any telco to set up 5G on council infrastructure, and neither did it have any control over what roll-out was planned.
"The Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment sets up the entire regulatory framework and work with the telecommunication companies directly," Barton said.
She said the Ministry for the Environment was responsible for the National Environmental Standards that dealt with telco facilities, while the Ministry of Health provided advice on the health effects of electromagnetic fields.
There was also an inter-agency committee that dealt with health effects of non-ionising fields.
"They meet six-monthly and provide advice to the director-general of health," Barton said.
She said at the moment, the council had no control over the companies and what they planned to roll out.
"It's not within our remit - it sits with MBIE."
It riled opponents who said the council needed to step up and honour its role as a protector of community health and wellbeing.
The founder of pressure group 5G-Free Nelson Joe Rifici said the technology enabled massive data communication via a system that posed "significant risk to public health".
He acknowledged efforts by the council to "execute the basic steps of its job" by staging a public meeting. He said it was a matter of "critical urgency" that 5G roll-out was halted.
Rifici said it was a priority, even above the current raft of global emergencies.
A Nelson doctor said non industry-funded research was needed before the community should accept 5G technology was safe.
Mapua-based GP Caroline Wheeler told the meeting more science was emerging over the side-effects of 5G on humans and animals, and more needed to be done to prove it was safe or not.
"It's a no-brainer to say, 'let's push pause', and let's use the precautionary principle here in Nelson to say that we as a city will not roll out 5G until, or unless non industry-funded research is done to prove whether 5G is safe or not.
"Industry has somehow managed to bypass this essential process of having to prove whether 5G is safe or not, before rolling it out on the whole planet."
Health clinician Clive James, who also spoke at today's meeting, said pulsed energy, or "electro smog" of the sort created by smart technology was linked to stress and anxiety in increasing numbers of young people.
The city council said it would now seek a report on the outcome of today's meeting.