Council concerns over school mast

14 December 2005 12:17

Council bosses have suspended an application for a telecommunications mast in the grounds of a school after they admitted parents had not been consulted about the scheme.

Broadland District Council received an application from BT, on behalf of Norfolk County Council, to put the 15 metre mast, with 0.3metre microwave dish, at Cantley First School, School Lane, Cantley.

The proposal, which is part of a Government drive to get Broadband installed at every school in the country by 2006, would ensure that pupils are not falling behind in what has become an increasingly technology-dependent educational system.

But the proposal has now been suspended because it emerged that the people living in the area had not been properly consulted about the mast.

Today, despite reassurances that the mast would not pose a health risk to children, campaign group Mast Sanity urged a degree of caution.

Its technical advisor Andy Davidson said: “They use a similar frequency to mobile phone masts and similar digital technology. While we don't know what causes health problems it's unwise to say one kind of mast is better than the other.”

Paul Fisher, the county council's assistant director, resources and efficiency, children's services, said: “It seems that consultation has not happened with local residents as it should, and so we have suspended the installation at Cantley.

“We do want to make sure residents are involved and want to hear their views. The school will now be making sure that this happens. Of course, people can also make their views known in response to any planning application as well.”

The county council is ensuring that 451 of the 453 schools in Norfolk are set up with Broadband by 2006. The other two schools are getting it done independently.

A council spokesman said the most cost effective solution to installing Broadband is by using copper, but in some cases, where the distance to the exchange is too great, fibre has to be used.

“However, in the more remote parts of the county, the cost of fibre becomes prohibitively expensive,” he said.

“In these instances point to point wireless is used. BT responded to Norfolk County Council with the option of using point-to-point wireless technology for schools in more remote parts of the county, which they had successfully implemented to schools in several counties within the eastern region; Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, being just two.

The technology requires a dish, typically 30cm in diameter, to be mounted either on a mast within the school grounds, or on the school building itself.”

As with mobile phone masts, there is some debate over whether they pose a risk to health. A spokesman for BT said: “The equipment used for these kinds of installations are low-power, point-to-point masts and they confirm to all EU directives for emissions.”

A spokesman for the Health Protection Agency said the main risk to children was not from masts but from mobile phone handsets.

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Hayley Smith, head teacher, admitted a mast is the last thing she wants towering over her school.

“The school hasn't asked for this, it's being done by BT,” she said. “We have asked for the planners and everyone else to see if they can find an alternative to putting up a mast. The school doesn't want to upset neighbours and the school doesn't want a mast and if there's any other way of doing it that's what we would like to do.

Mrs Smith said the children at the school would be “disadvantaged” if they did not have access to Broadband from schools in the rest of the area.

“I don't want a mast any more than anyone else, but we want the Broadband,” she said.

Through the Put Masts on Hold campaign the Evening News has campaigned against the installation of mobile phone masts until it is proved they are safe.

Dr Ian Gibson, MP for Norwich North, who has been a long-time supporter of our campaign, said: “If you can do it on a phone line you should do it on a phone line.

“What neighbours think is rather important and if they are worried about it I don't think any reassurance will stop them and it would be better to do it on a phone line - other schools have done it on phone lines.”

Are you fighting plans for a mast in your neighbourhood? Call Alasdair McGregor at the Evening News on (01603) 772443 or email al.mcgregor@archant.co.uk



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