Villagers in phone mast fury

by Claire Metcalfe

Ryedale Gazette and Herald Yorkshire

Crowds of villagers who protested against a mobile phone mast near their homes in Sheriff Hutton have vowed to continue fighting until it has gone.

More than 130 residents showed up at the weekend with placards and signs to express their anger at phone company Orange for erecting the 15- metre high mast in Dasket Hill without prior warning.

And they have held Ryedale District Council (RDC) to account too, for administrative errors which allowed the mast to be built.

At a meeting on Monday, the Sheriff Hutton Protest Group demanded answers from Gary Housden, RDC's development control manager.

Apologising, he said that a letter sent by RDC to the parish council in January, informing it of the mast application and asking for a response, failed to arrive. When RDC got in touch to ask why the response was taking so long, this failure came to light and a second letter was issued.

The parish council responded promptly to say it was opposed to the mast, but the delay had brought the decision "perilously close" to its 56-day deadline for lodging an objection by law.

Then, due to an error in the way the council's computer was programmed, the expiry date of the application notice was incorrectly calculated by a day, meaning that RDC was one day late in issuing a response to Orange 's request. "It sticks in my throat that this has happened, but it has happened," said Mr Housden. "There were two mistakes from an administrative point of view. One mistake we could have lived with, but it took it to the wire and went over by a day, but that is not representative of the development control work of this council."

He is now taking legal advice as to whether the council has any enforcement power over Orange thanks to two technicalities.

The first is that Orange did not place notification of plans on the site, as is its responsibility, and the second is that the plans said the mast would be a moss green colour, and it is currently galvanized steel.

If it has no power, the council will approach Orange to discuss moving the mast, possibly even offering a financial incentive.

But the meeting heard that North Yorkshire County Council's highways authority had already been in touch with Orange to offer another grass verge away from the village, and it declined. The highways authority has to let it build on verges, like other service providers such as gas and electric companies.

Penny Bean, chairman of the parish council, said there were landowners willing to accommodate the mast, adding: "But then Orange would have to pay rent."

Now residents are looking further afield for support in lobbying Orange to remove the mast.

They are planning to write to the chief executive of the company until they get a response.

Ryedale's MP, John Greenway, has also promised to write to the company

He said: "I've come to the conclusion, having been given all the facts, that that the district and county councils should ask Orange to move it and I'm prepared to support them by writing to Orange direct myself.

"Given the real hostility, I think the responsible thing for Orange to do now would be to agree for the mast to be moved."

After the meeting, a member of the protest group, Linda Murphy, who lives 85 metres away from the mast in Cornborough Road , said: "We've decided that we really need to take the fight to Orange because we really don't have very much faith that the council can do much for us.

"By consensus, we really want to name and shame Orange and we are going to hold further meetings about how to go about that."

Orange spokesperson Duncan McGraw said: "As far as Orange is concerned, we've not had contact (about suggestions of where to move the mast) either from the council or residents, but we would look at any suggestion by the public and council and assess them on their merits."

Updated: 14:27 Wednesday, November 23, 2005


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