Exeter Express and Echo

12:00 - 25 May 2005
Mobile phone giants were having talks on controversial plans for more masts in Exeter at a crunch meeting with city planners today. Vodafone and 3G have been invited by the city council to outline their siting proposals for their so-called third generation phone networks.

Both companies claim they need new sites to meet their licence commitment to provide 3G coverage to most of the UK by 2006.

Exeter's head of planning services, Richard Short, and director of economy and development, John Rigby, together with city councillors, were involved in the meeting with representatives of Vodafone and 3G.

Vodafone's plan to put up a new 3G mast on Heavitree Road close to the city's maternity unit and several schools has already run into fierce opposition. More than 700 people have signed an Echo petition calling on the company to look elsewhere.

Today's meeting was expected to concentrate on the companies' plans, the possibility of sharing sites and the role of public consultation.

A council spokesman said: "The two main operators agreed to speak to councillors and will be asked to outline their network plans and justify their proposals."

The council has been involved in mast rows before, blocking several applications citing the health fears of local residents.

However, the authority has also lost appeals before Whitehall inspectors on the grounds that health risk was not a valid reason for objections to be made if the proposed mast emissions were within international guidelines.

Anti-mast campaigners are urging local authorities and the Government to stand up to the mobile phone giants.

Chris Maile, of pressure group Mast Sanity, said: "The planning guidelines are simply not working. We need strong guidelines and stronger controls, too, with the ability to remove inappropriately sited masts already in place."

Both 3G and Vodafone insist that all their new masts will operate well within current international limits.

The Mobile Operators' Association says more sites are needed, particularly in urban areas, to set up the new networks. A spokesman said: "To satisfy increasing customer demand for mobile services or to improve call quality, more base stations have to be built in busy areas.

"Site and mast sharing by operators is and will remain a priority. However, it is not always possible to share masts and there may be good environmental reasons for not doing so."

The Echo's Shock Waves campaign is demanding more research into the health effects of masts, that they should emit at the lowest possible level, and that there should be a full audit of output from all masts.


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