Sooner or later, the links between base station emissions and adverse health effects will be established beyond any doubt

Sooner or later, the links between base station emissions and adverse health effects will be established beyond any doubt (even that of the HPA) and it will be impossible for HMG to deny reality. Meanwhile, pressure should be applied on the Government by every available means to force a complete rewrite of planning policy relating to telecoms installations - the provisions of the Spring and Stunell private members' bills would constitute an appropriate starting point. There is evidence that more and more MPs are taking an interest in the concerns of their constituents about masts and it is imperative to keep pushing them - both in terms of circulating to them the results of new scientific research as and when it is published, and continuing to call for changes to policy and associated regulations.

At the same time, we must work on the local authorities. Far too many council executives and their planning officers appear to take the view that it is they who make the decisions at local government level. Their modus operandi oft stresses that elected members should not interfere with the decision making process and comprises the issue of barely hidden threats against any councillors having the temerity to question this supposed primacy. The truth is, of course, that these officials are merely advisers; it is the elected members who are the decision makers, responsible for considering the advice given but also taking into full account the views expressed by their electorate. As an example of but one illustration of how processes have become warped, I was recently involved in a prolonged exchange with a campaign group. At issue was a proposal for a 15 metre free-standing mobile phone mast - with a determination of 'prior approval' to be considered under the provisions of the GPDO (General Permitted Development Order). It was clearly most important for this to go to committee. During negotiations with council officials, the group was informed that the proposal could not go before a planning committee because of "the statutory requirment for all applications for prior approval to be determined by the chief planning officer under delegated authority". There is, of course, no such statutory requirement. There might, just might, be a local arrangement whereby councillors have given their officials such powers as a means of filtering business, but what is given can quite easily be taken away! I explained the reality to three local councillors purporting to be in strong support of the local campaign group. All to no avail. Despite intense pressure from the group, they elected to accept the words of the Chief Planning Officer at face value and took no action to ensure committee consideration. The application was duly approved.

In my view, the councillors concerned abrogated their responsibilities to their electorate - but this sort of thing goes on all the time. Accordingly, we must ensure by all possible means that councillors fully understand their role as elected members and the relationship that should exist between themselves and the 'paid help'. I would contend that their responsibility to the electorate that voted them in should in many areas transcend other considerations. If more councillors were to stand up and be counted - in other words support local people in refusing mast applications regardless of central government policy as articulated in PPG 8 - the message simply could not be ignored. Were just about every application to be refused, the Planning Inspectorate would grind to a halt and HMG would be forced out of its complacency. Albeit through local councillors, the people would have spoken and their message heard!

As one member of the public was moved to plea during last month's Forum in the House of Commons: "Please can we have our democracy back!"

I don't suppose that this helps much but for what it's worth...



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August 2005

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