22
Feb
2005

Fury as planners OK mast

Date Published: Monday 21 February 2005

Parents are fuming after a controversial mast near a Winchester school was approved by planners on Monday.

Over a dozen parents attended the site-viewing sub-committee close to St Swithun's School, where mobile phone operator, O2, wants to place a 15-metre base station.

They heard the committee vote 5-3 for the mast, which will be erected on Alresford Road, less than 200 yards from school boarding houses.

Parents believe the committee's decision flies in the face of recent government advice through the Stewart Report, which urges a precautionary approach regarding the siting of masts near schools and that the beam of "greatest intensity" should not fall over their grounds.

The committee heard there were 85 letters of objection, including one from the school, on grounds which included possible health risks, that the company had not included enough information about emissions and there had not been enough consultation.

Baffled by the approval, some parents said they would be forced to consider whether to keep their children at the school because of the mast, which O2 says will increase its coverage in the city and allow such features as wireless internet access on handsets.

Emma Mitchell, from Chapel Lane, Easton, who has three daughters at St Swithun's Junior School, said: "I'm not going to let them come into senior school if the mast goes up."

Father of two pupils, Paul Clegg, of Littleton, added, said: "It's wrong. While the risks are not proven, I feel uncomfortable about my children being at a school where there's a mast. To put it within 200 yards seems to strike me as ignoring the Stewart report's findings."

Earlier, Mr Clegg had said that he believed the beam would go straight over four boarding houses.

But Robin Henderson, of Turner and Henderson, O2's agent, said the beam would go up Alresford Road and towards the motorway, although he conceded that low-level radiation would fall over school grounds.

Another committee member asked why the monopole could not be sited alongside another mast, erected in 1996. He was told that this would require the school's permission and would lead to a lattice-shaped mast, which would be more intrusive."

Frank Pearson, member for Swanmore and Newtown, said he was reluctant to support the plan but it would be difficult to justify a refusal. "The cumulative effect of this mast and the other is very low impact."

Chairman of governors, Prof Robert Grime, said he was "very disappointed" about the decision.

Meanwhile, stalwart mast campaigner, Karen Barratt, has written to the city council urging it to refuse any applications for phone masts near to schools until the Government has a clear policy.

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