Tough call on phone masts

----- Original Message ----- From: Butler, Kate Kate.Butler@sunday-times.ie
To: oconnell@esatclear.ie
Sent: Monday, July 18, 2005 5:12 PM Subject: The Sunday Times, Property

Hi Colette, Many thanks for all your help. See below for an electronic version of the article. All the best, Kate The Sunday Times - Property

July 17, 2005

Tough call on phone masts Fears over the effects on health of living near a phone mast invariably drag house prices down but, as KATE BUTLER reports, there could be some masts near your home that you’re unaware of

A country mansion comprising 15 rooms, with bucolic charm and excellent mobile phone reception . . .” Living next door to a mobile phone mast may offer you the best communications, but it’s not exactly a selling point.

One estate agent says he would halve the value of houses if a mast was nearby. The true impact of mobile phone masts on health is still unknown. Controversy was stirred again last month by an Oireachtas committee that called for stricter planning guidelines for masts.

Omega the true impact of mobile phone masts on health is not still unknown. See under:

But the debate is already affecting the value of property.“If a mast is near a property, I’d drop the price by half because you eliminate half the customers,” says Pat O’Donovan, of O’Donovan and Associates in Co Limerick.

“A couple of months ago one person actually pulled out of a sale because of an application for the erection of a mast on a site nearby.”

There are now 5,181 mobile phone masts across the republic, a threefold increase since 1999. The Office of Public Works has agreed to allow 32 masts on public buildings.

Yet Ireland only has 94% mobile phone penetration, under the EU average of 98%: there are more masts to come. The public has remained distrustful of phone company and government assurances that masts are safe. Staff at the Department of Social and Family Affairs office in Sligo are opposing the siting of a mast on their building. They say it will affect children attending a creche inside.

Prompted by such fears, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications investigated. It criticised the role of the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) in monitoring masts and recommended strict planning guidelines.

One is that masts should not be erected close to sensitive sites such as schools, health centres and playgrounds. “We have to take a cautionary approach, even though there is no scientific evidence that the masts are injurious to people’s health,” says Noel O’Flynn, the TD and chairman of the Oireachtas committee. “We also recommended that we need a scientific advisory body — we’re not experts.”

Caution is one thing that the government has not yet exercised in relation to masts. Since 2000, masts have been exempt from planning permission if they are erected on a commercial building or on a telephone or flagpole.

In 1999, Karen Heneghan of Griffith Avenue, north Dublin, proved in High Court that the erection of a phone mast next to her property was in breach of planning guidelines and had devalued her property. “People thought I was fighting it on the grounds of health, but I fought it on visual impact and devaluation of property,” she says. “It was a monstrosity.”

Eircom took the mast down, but when the law changed it was able to erect another one on the telecommunications exchange next to her home. Heneghan found the smaller, unobtrusive mast didn’t affect the sale of her house last year.

Don MacAuley, of Mast Action in Meath, believes there is little to prevent phone companies putting up masts wherever they want. Using their own detection equipment, the group has found a mast hidden in a chimney opposite a residential estate.

“Since the exemptions, a mast under 15m doesn’t need planning permission,” he says. “We reckon there are 180-plus — but Meath county council only knows of about 55.”

However, Patrick Tehan, an auctioneer, believes that masts do not always have a negative effect on house sales. “Phone masts are a strange entity. Some people would be annoyed by them, others wouldn’t give a damn,” he says. “When an auctioneer is valuing a property, they might warn the client that this could be a negative factor.”

While it might not prevent a sale, the proximity of a mast will always be a consideration for buyers, according to Karen Mulvaney of the Buyer’s Agent. “So much is unknown about mobile phone masts that it does scare people,” she said.

“I’ve never come across anyone who has said ‘no big deal’. There are two big concerns: health and resale.” There seems to be a relatively simple solution to curbing masts’ proliferation. “We have recommended that mobile virtual operators should be able to access the infrastructure that’s already in place,” says ComReg. “There would be less need for masts.”

But this may be bad news for those already living with masts close to their homes. It means that future masts will be restricted to existing sites.

So far, however, there has been no co-operation between the phone companies. Meanwhile, some are not willing to hang about. “I once spoke to a land registry man in Waterford,” says O’Donovan. “He said whenever he sees an application come in for a mast near his property, the first thing he does is see an estate agent and move out.”


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August 2005

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