29
Mai
2005

Chichester and Inspectorate's punishment

The letters to the Bath newspaper about Mr Dolan were a good thing to do - maybe it would help if we did something similar with the Planning Inspectorate?

With the Inspectorate overturning so many mast applications refused at local level? With the complaints route against Inspectorate decisions being so expensive and user-unfriendly, people power seems to have become the only way left for ordinary folk to fight back and win.

Why, oh why, won't the Inspectorate listen to the general public and the local Councils who are honestly and lawfully representing local communities concerns and wishes?

Why is the Inspectorate awarding punishing high costs against some Councils for properly carrying out their lawful duties to their local communities and yet not punishing others?

I think it may be time for all those suffering from a poor Inspectorate decision to take direct action and write in huge numbers to the Chief Executive at the Planning Inspectorate to complain about poor decisions and the difficult complaints system - where masts are concerned, there must be literally hundreds of thousands of dissatisfied people. At a time when banks and other large service industries are regularly asking customers for feedback on the quality of service, it seems wrong there is no easy way for the public to show dissatisfaction of the Inspectorate's performance and service.

If the Planning Inspectorate was a private firm accountable to the general public - there would have to be a faster, easier user-friendly direct complaints system, a system that gave the opportunity to review both the evidence provided and have the power to reverse a poor decision.

I think it is wrong that the Inspectorate restrict what you can complain to them about, i.e. the Inspector's opinion. I do not see how this can be in any way moral or democratic when it is the Inspector's singular personal opinion that matters most when he/she overturns a democratically made local council/community decision!

Jane

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Jane,

Thank you for this (and to Sylvia and Sandi for your subsequent comments). The trouble is that the Planning Inspectorate has no remit outside planning law and government policy with respect to telecommunications installations. Common law and democracy simply do not enter the equation.

I know that several people have written to the Quality Assurance Unit at the Inspectorate expressing their concerns about the Sidlesham Inquiry, and more of that in a moment, but such action won't have any impact. The Inspectorate is an advertised instrument of government; it emphasises its impartial status and that it is apolitical but there is little doubt that it follows the agenda of the government of the day. Whatever the position hitherto, this is patently evident in the context of the general 'politicisation' of the Civil Service since New Labour came to power in 1997.

At the Sidlesham Inquiry, we introduced rock-solid evidence from Grahame Blackwell and Ian Sharp on the differences between Tetra and mobile phone technology and covered both biological effects and electrosensitivity in considerable detail. The evidence of Collins, the Airwave technical witness, was shallow, glib and pitiful - and was systematically taken apart during some 3 hours of cross-examination by our extremely well-briefed barrister. The man ended up a gibbering wreck. We introduced three local residents to express their fears about Tetra 'on their doorsteps' and submitted documentary evidence of the very poignant concerns of local people already suffering disabilities. One family are tenants of the landowner and live 50 metres from the proposed site - they are concerned about their epileptic son and, notwithstanding their precarious circumstances, decided to speak out against the proposal. The result was a suggestion by the landowner that they look for alternative accommodation during the New Year - in a note appended to a Christmas Card. So how did the Inspector, Paul Griffiths, deal with all this?

Firstly, he itemised Grahame and Ian's evidence within three short paragraphs - and then summarised by saying that, "Material was adduced by the appellant's technical witness suggesting the opposite....on the balance of evidence before me, I consider that mobile phone technology in its widest sense or Tetra signal characteristics in particular, have no direct, harmful effects". This is an absolute travesty considering the evidence presented. He goes on to say, "I also heard evidence from Mrs ....whose son is epileptic..and there is concern that the installation could trigger seizures. Under cross-examination, the appellant's technical witness accepted the presence of anecdotal evidence that radiation can have this effect ....However, this can only be speculative.... In any event, Mrs... has been given notice to quit....so the situation she is concerned about will not arise".

Our barrister did a very good job for us. But he is a professional lawyer who, with the dice loaded against us, had no illusions about the prospect of success. That said, a synopsis of his comments on Griffiths' Decision Letter is as follows: "The outcome was, unfortunately, perhaps to be expected, but the letter is a pretty poor consideration of the issues. We came close to winning. However, the decision is carefully crafted to reduce the weight to be applied.....issues of weight are difficult to challenge in decision-making, which is one reason why I think the decision letter has been written with legal or other advice. There are significant flaws/omissions in the decision letter, in particular .... (several examples). I would advise that you have good grounds to challenge. The issue is whether you have the stomach/funds for a further round of the battle (noting that even if the decision is quashed, the appeal will have to be decided again)".

Everything is stacked against local democracy in these matters and the Inspectorate has absolutely no cohesive structure for conducting appeals - as you have said. It amounts to the luck of the draw.

Last year's judgement by the European Court of Human Rights on the legality of courts martial in the Royal Navy was quite specific. Given its conclusions and findings, there is absolutely no way in which that same Court would consider the Planning Inspectorate to be a lawful body. But we have to get the issue to the European Court - and that means first exhausting the domestic process.

Sorry to ramble on. I applaud the suggestion of inundating the chief executive with letters of complaint about his organisation - but bear in mind that such people are civil servants beholden to the government of the day. Don't expect too much!

David B

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I have been doing so for the past 6 months. I have been corresponding with Prescott's office. The Deputy Planning minister Yvette Cooper has been responding with the usual standard responses i.e. Stewart and ICNIRP/NRPB prove every thing is ok. I have of course been quoting what these reports actually say and she has now given up and got the Dept of Health to respond to me with the usual "no evidence of ill health" argument. I have sent them the ill health evidence.

In my letters to the Deputy Planning Minister I originally said that there would be 100,000 masts sited throughout Britain. There was an extremely patronising response to this with the usual 50,000 number quoted. Now of course since then Orange alone estimated they will need 50,000 masts throughout Britain for 3G (April's Radiation Research newsletter) s o if they need 50,000 for 3G then a total of 200,000/250,000 would n ot seem unreasonable. I wrote back to Cooper in a similar patronising fashion and asked her if she would care to revise the Government estimate following Orange's recent announcement. I received a response dated 25 May 2005 from somebody called Iain Clark, Policy Adviser, Planning Development Control Policy (Office of Deputy PM) saying that "Neither this Department nor Orange is aware of any announcement which contradicts these figures". I understand Yvette Cooper is no longer the Deputy Planning Minister but if anybody would like to take up the mast numbers issue with Iain Clark, his email address is iain.clark@odpm.gov.uk . Seems like they want to keep a lid on the mast numbers issue. I am continuing my letter campaign and always cc my MP.

John Elliott
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