3
Aug
2005

Orange is expelled

By Linda Piper

London News Shopper Bexley

A LONG-running battle over a phone mast on a primary school has finally been resolved.

Phone company Orange has been told it must decommission the mast next to classrooms at Bedonwell Infant and Junior Schools in Belvedere, within eight weeks of its new 3G mast becoming operational.

Bexley Council's planning control committee imposed the condition after handing the company permission for a new mast on the top of the telephone exchange in Erith Road, Belvedere, granted last week.

The company signed a lease with the school in 1995 to rent a piece of land for the mast, before the continuing controversy about the effects of phone masts first surfaced.

In return the school received £9,000 a year from Orange.

Once parents realised the uncertainty over health risks from phone masts, they launched a campaign to get the mast removed.

Several parents, including Debbie Collins from Belvedere, removed their children from the school, rather than expose them to possible health risks.

Parents and children also staged a protest march through Bexleyheath Broadway to the council offices.

They pressured Bexley Council and the company and in 2001 thought they had won when Orange said it was prepared to move the mast if it could find an alternative site.

The then council leader Councillor Mike Slaughter offered Bexley's help in identifying another site but all the efforts came to nothing.

The council and the company always maintained the strength of emissions from the mast was tiny and would not affect the children.

In recent years the school has refused the company access to the mast which would have enabled engineers to upgrade it preventing Orange from re-using the mast for its 3G services.

Because of the outcry from parents, the school had already told the company it was not prepared to renew the lease on the school site.

Now the company says its new mast on the roof of the exchange will provide its 3G coverage plus 40 per cent of the 2G coverage now coming from the Bedonwell mast.

Mrs Collins' daughter Rhiannon was just six when her mother took her away to teach her at home.

She would have been due to leave the school this summer.

Reacting to the news Mrs Collins said: "Fantastic. I cannot believe it.

"At last children will not have to sit next to emissions from the mast any longer."

She added "At the time we said Orange should have used one of the suggested alternative sites.

"These alternatives included the Erith exchange where it could have shared a mast.

"It obviously did not suit the company's purpose to do so.

"It is a shame Orange did not put the health of children first but it is good councillors finally took the chance to do something."
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