A Government directive on phone mast planning applications has been effectively overturned

A Government directive on phone mast planning applications has been effectively overturned by the Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State, the Rt. Hon. John Prescott.

Government Planning Policy Guidance on masts, PPG8 (Para 98) states: "... it is the Government's firm view that the planning system is not the place for determining health safeguards. ... In the Government's view, if a proposed mobile phone base station meets the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines for public exposure it should not be necessary for a local planning authority, in processing an application for planning permission or prior approval to consider further the health aspects and concerns about them". But a Planning Inspector who by all accounts followed that advice to the letter failed in his statutory duty - according to the Deputy Prime Minister.

An official Government Planning Guideline that is at variance with the expressed view of the Deputy Prime Minister (and final arbiter of planning issues in the UK) has no place in the planning process and should be withdrawn immediately. Until then the self-contradictory stance of the Government on this issue is untenable, making a mockery of the Democratic Process in respect of mobile phone masts.

Now read on ...

On 26 September 2003 a landmark victory was achieved for those campaigning for the British public to have a say in the safety of their own living environment and that of their families. A High Court Judge signed a Consent Order that finalised the quashing of a Planning Inspectorate appeal decision. The decision, to allow an Orange mobile phone mast to be erected in Grove Way, Chorleywood, was over-turned on the basis of the Inspector's "failure to adequately consider the weight to be given to the health concerns of the claimant in his decision letter". The First Secretary of State offered to concede the case and to pay reasonable costs.

The case was submitted under S288 of a challenge to an Inspector's decision based on the sole ground that as there was an ICNIRP certificate the inspector did not need to look at health further. The Treasury Solicitor, instead of going forward or even submitting any defence, has negotiated a settlement agreeing that a consent order be granted for the reason quoted above.

The Government's Planning Policy Guidance note 8 says that, where an ICNIRP Certificate exists for a proposed mast, there is no need for a Local Planning Authority to consider health issues or concerns any further. This has led to the virtual dismissal, by Planning Inspectors and therefore by LPAs, of objections on health grounds to mast applications (since all of them hold an ICNIRP certificate). Over the past year or so, however, there has been an increasing tide of evidence that so-called 'non-thermal' effects from masts are potentially harmful to people's health – and ICNIRP certification only relates to thermal effects – i.e. the microwave heating effect of mast radiation. In other words, there is a serious potential health risk recognised by many eminent scientists that is in no way covered by ICNIRP certification – and up till now it has been taboo to mention it in planning circles, thanks to PPG8.

Not any more. This Decision makes it very clear that slavish adherence to PPG8, unquestioning reliance on ICNIRP certification, is not enough. It may well be that the Government stepped in and conceded this case to forestall an otherwise inevitable High Court Ruling that would have then gone down as Case Law, to be cited in other similar situations. No matter. The point is clearly made, the cat is well and truly out of the bag.

An MM02 Airwave spokesman is quoted earlier this year as saying (with some rancour) "There is a lot of information on the Internet". He's right, there is. There is also an increasing wealth of information coming out through the media – newspapers, TV, radio – and none of it gives any cause for public confidence regarding phone mast safety. The behaviour of some of the phone mast operators (notably Airwave) is also giving rise to increasing public concern. Is it any wonder that people fear for their own health and that of their children? That fear alone is a Material Planning Consideration, it cannot be denied. It unquestionably affects people's wellbeing and quality of life (and can therefore legitimately be included in any objection to a planning application). This is of itself a substantive planning issue, quite apart from the actual health hazard posed by a mast – at the very least one could say without fear of contradiction that there is now 'reasonable doubt' as to phone mast safety. The head-in-the-sand approach is no longer tenable (though our own 'protection' body, the NRPB, still advocate this ostrich posture – see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3157676.stm ).

The law requires that Government guidelines be interpreted in the light of prior legislation. In the case of PPG8 this includes the Human Rights Act. In the words of previous High Court rulings, such guidelines must not be allowed to "fetter the decision-maker's discretion" in the planning process. This latest Ruling makes it crystal clear how that principle should operate in practice.

PPG8 is guidance. It is no longer (and should never have been) 'carte blanche' for masts to go up anywhere and everywhere with a total disregard for legitimate public health concerns. Yasmin Skelt's victory is a victory for us all, and a victory for commonsense and democracy.

See also: http://www.planningsanity.co.uk/

Check "Letters" "Phone Masts" and "ICNIRP".


Source: Mast Sanity, Yasmin Skelt, 08 May 2009

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