09:00 - 28 September 2005

A Scottish Executive planning official cleared a tricky hurdle yesterday as he visited the proposed site for a controversial mobile phone mast.

Malcolm Smith arrived at the Cullen telephone exchange to find the boundary gate firmly locked.

He had arranged access to the site with BT, but when no one turned up Mr Smith - watched by a crowd of over 100 local people opposed to the phone mast plan - took it upon himself to scale the 5ft perimeter fence. He spent several minutes inspecting the site before once again demonstrating his agility by climbing out the same way he had got in.

After dusting himself off, Mr Smith, appointed by Scottish ministers to make a decision on Vodafone's application to erect the 50ft mast, spent some time chatting with some of the placard-waving protesters.

But he made it clear to them that he could not become involved in a debate on the merits or otherwise of the application, and that the purpose of his visit was primarily to see the proposed site for himself and to familiarise himself with the surroundings.

The mast proposal has generated massive opposition in Cullen, where objectors claim the potential health risk and visual impact far outweigh any advantages for mobile phone coverage. The planning application was rejected by Moray councillors earlier this year following 24 objections and a petition with more than 250 names. But Vodafone appealed against the refusal and Mr Smith was appointed to determine the appeal.

He said yesterday he hoped to be in a position to issue a decision in late October or early November. He added: "Obviously there is a strength of local feeling and that has been clear from the representations that have been received and from the turnout today."

Anti-mast campaigner, Bernard Watts, said the turnout underlined how strongly Cullen residents felt about the proposal. "We don't want the thing here, it's as simple as that," he said.

"This appeal by Vodafone goes against local democracy. Seventeen of our councillors said no when the application came up earlier this year and that should have been that.

"We have nothing against mobile phones or technology. What we are against is sticking a mast right in the middle of where people live."

Mother-to-be Vivienne Addison, who lives less than 100 yards from the telephone exchange, said objectors had been told that health fears over microwave emissions from the mast were not a material planning consideration. "I don't think that's right - it should be a major consideration," said Mrs Addison, who is due to give birth to her first child within the next few days. "While there is uncertainty about the health risks that mobile phone masts pose, they should not be allowed in residential areas."


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September 2005

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