12:00 - 21 March 2005

Vodafone insists the Heavitree Road site is its only option after admitting that no other landowner in the area wants its mast.

The telecommunications giant says the proposed mast is key to meeting its licence commitment of providing 'third generation' coverage to 80 per cent of the UK population by 2007.

Although the company has confirmed it has still yet put in a planning application, Vodafone believes the site is "our only option in this area".

A Vodafone UK spokeswoman said: "We don't have a range of options in the Exeter area at the moment.

"We have had difficulty finding a site where someone is willing to accommodate us. We have done a large amount of pre-consultation in the area and written to the local councillors as well as the schools and nurseries. We have had 10 letters back so far. If someone can come up with an alternative site, we would consider it but there has been nothing suggested at the moment. We would like to share with other operators as under guidelines we are encouraged to do that and it could cost less, but at the moment we have no other options in the search area."

How Vodafone's planning application is dealt with will depend on the size of the mast.

If higher than 15 metres, it will be subject to the normal planning process. Lower than that height and it will be eligible for the 'prior approval' process.

If the local planning authority - Exeter City Council - does not respond within 56 days of such a 'prior approval' application, it is automatically passed.

Planning authorities can object but they are instructed to "first explore with the operator the possibility of modifying the siting and appearance of the proposed development".

Councils should also "take account of the obligations on code system operators to provide a service, and of technical constraints upon network development" when discussing alternative sites.

If applications are rejected, the operators have six months to issue a notice of an appeal.

Currently, under special planning guidance, Whitehall insists that if the proposed mast will emit at below international guidelines then "it should not be necessary for a local planning authority....to consider further the health aspects and concerns about them."

This applies to all mast applications regardless of height.

Critics, though, say the 15-metre high distinction is arbitrary and the prior approval process favours the applicant too much at the expense of local accountability.

The mobile operators say emissions from their masts are far below current, recognised international guidelines and in most cases they are willing to discuss siting issues with councils and communities.

Recently, city planners blocked a proposed Vodafone mast for Honiton Road - but on the grounds that it would be a visual intrusion.

From Mast Network


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