16
Sep
2005

PROTESTERS JOIN FORCES

BY BEN MURCH

Bath Chronicle

11:00 - 15 September 2005

Protest groups have banded together to protest against plans for mobile phone masts at three sites in Bear Flat. Members of the newly formed Bear Flat and Alexandra Park Alliance claim mobile phone company O2 has tried to drive a wedge between them and force its plans through.

Last year, the company won a planning appeal to put up a mast just metres away from people's homes on the grass verge between Wellsway and Bloomfield Road.

The decision was taken despite massive protests, but the communications giant then agreed to consider alternative sites.

It has since applied for permission to site the mast in Alexandra Park, sparking renewed opposition from a different group of residents.

Wellsway campaigners face the danger of O2 reverting to its original plans if the Alexandra Park campaign is successful.

A spokesperson for the residents claimed the company had tried to use this threat to divide the two groups but has only succeeded in forcing them closer together.

A third group, which is campaigning against Hutchinson 3G's plans to put a mast on top of the Smiles store at Wellsway, has also given the alliance its backing.

Sue Boyle, spokeswoman for the Alexandra Park group, said: "We realised that O2's policy was to divide us from the Bear Flat protesters.

"Our aspiration was to join forces with them instead. We believe it is possible to stop O2 putting masts on either site. We have to believe that, because we all think that each site is as unsuitable as the other.

"At Alexandra Park there are environmental issues and in both cases it would be too close to people.

"We are determined not to look at them as alternatives, although that is the O2 strategy. We will fight tooth and nail to make sure it doesn't go on Alexandra Park and make sure it doesn't go on Wellsway either."

Frank Thynne, acting co-ordinator of the Wellsway O2 protesters, said: "O2 isn't consulting, it's bullying.

"In approaching the Alexandra Park group and reminding them it is an alternative to the Wellsway site, where it already has permission, it is clearly an attempt to divide us.

"If O2 succeeds in dividing us, we are going to be losers."

Mr Thynne added the protesters were not inherently anti-mobile phones or masts, and wanted to reduce antagonism by working more closely with operators to find sites.

Bath and North East Somerset Council officers and members heavily criticised companies for failing to consult residents when they discussed an application from Orange for a mast in Twerton at a public meeting earlier this year.

Peter Sellwood, of the Hutchinson 3G protest group, said only by working together could people in Bear Flat prevent mobile phone companies pushing through applications for masts on unsuitable sites.

Hutchinson 3G's bid for a mast at the Smiles site will be determined by a planning inspector, following the council's failure to reach a decision.

But protesters are still hopeful the company can be convinced to share a mast with O2 at a new site further away from people's homes.

O2 has agreed to hold a public meeting on its plans on Monday, September 26, at a time and venue to be confirmed. Nobody from the company was available to comment.

b.murch@bathchron.co.uk
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