New phone masts cannot be banned, says government

by Colleen McDonnell

Attempts by Richmond upon Thames Council to ban new phone masts are being frustrated by government guidelines, the council leader said this week.

Cllr Tony Arbour, who represents Hampton Wick ward, opposes a proposed ten metre high mast at the junction of Normansfield Avenue and Upper Teddington Road, near Hampton Wick Infant School, on the grounds that it would be a health risk.

But he said the government's planning department promptly sent back a warning to the council: local authorities cannot put blanket bans on phone masts.

Following Cllr Arbour's declaration to local residents, expressing the council's opposition, the government department wrote: "Local authorities should not implement their own precautionary policies, e,g by way of imposing a ban or moratorium on new telecommunications develop-ment or insisting on minimum distances between new telecommunications develop-ment and existing development."

Cllr Arbour said: "It is sad that we are prevented from taking action which will safeguard the interests of the residents whom we represent. Nevertheless every application for a new mast will be subject to the strongest scrutiny. I am sorry that our members of Parliament have failed to persuade the government that Richmond and other councils should be able to act in the interests of their residents."

The government's firm stance is based on guidelines for local authorities in Planning Policy Guidance 8 (PPG 8), last revised in 2001.

The government statement said the planning system is not the place for deciding health and safety and that if a proposed mobile phone mast meets emission level guidelines local planners should not consider further health aspects when deciding the application.

There are already three phone masts located close by, along a small section of Kingston Road. Hampton Wick Infant school is within one fifth of a mile and St John the Baptist school within a quarter mile of the proposed mast. Hampton Wick residents and parents of children at the two schools are worried because questions still exist regarding the impact of mobile phone masts.

MP for Twickenham, Vincent Cable, who is currently supporting residents in their battle against the Ashley Road phone mast in Hampton, will soon receive a petition from residents protesting the proposed mast on Normansfield Avenue. He said: "We can expect a large number of new masts. The companies are trying to get as many up as possible in order to plug the holes in their network and to get permission before pressures grow for tighter planning rules on masts. Under existing rules it is difficult to stop masts on any other than purely planning considerations; but residents should keep up the pressure on the council and the government."

Included in the planning department's statement was a parliamentary exchange in which Yvette Cooper, the public health minister, said the 'precautionary approach' recommended by the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones' report in 2000 has provided the basis for government policy.

She said: "The group's report did not recommend a ban on the construction of mobile phone masts near schools or any other site. What the report did do was make some specific recommendations for precautionary action for the use of mobile technology."

Sir William Stewart of the National Radiological Protection Board published a new study in January warning that if mobile phones do damage health, then children will inevitably be at greatest risk. His report also called for a review of the planning of base stations. According to an article published by the BBC, Sir William has also said he does not favour mobile phone masts being situated near schools.

3:12pm Thursday 24th February 2005

From Mast Network


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