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May I thank you, Mr. Olner, and through you Mr. Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to secure this debate on planning regulations for mobile telecommunications masts, which are generating huge interest up and down the country and among colleagues. I also thank the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Jim Fitzpatrick for being in the Chamber to respond to this important debate.
There is a desperate need to address the many serious concerns about the Government's policies on planning regulations for mobile telecommunications masts. It is ironic that mobile phones, which were created to allow connection and conversation between people separated by distance, have proved how distant the Government are and how incapable they are of listening, even to the most persistent interlocutors.
Each time the Government have gone through the motions of listening to people's concerns, it quickly becomes apparent that no real action has been taken. When the Government claim to accept:
"the importance of ensuring that effective public consultation"—[Hansard, 18 October 2004; Vol. 425, c. 743.]
takes place, as the then planning Minister—the current Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Phil Hope—said on 18 October 2004, they also quietly admit that that really means that arrangements are necessary to ensure that development is not delayed.
"People have a right to know where masts are located."
At the same time, however, the Government go to great lengths to prevent obtrusive new masts from being subject to planning permission.
The then planning Minister continued:
"these planning cases would be more likely to end up as planning appeals . . . because an application had been refused."—[Hansard, 18 October 2004; Vol. 425, c. 744.]
The Government are speaking with forked tongue; they claim to be listening to people's concerns about the effect on health of telecommunications masts, while a planning Minister sends out explicit instructions to councils that they should not impose a ban on mobile phones on health grounds.
The Government are simply not listening. Following the Stewart report, they promised to hold several consultation exercises, but they have clearly not taken enough exercise and must now be shown how to get planning permission for mobile telecommunications masts back into shape.
The Government must not be seen to accept the £22.5 billion third-generation mobile phone licence fees and then ignore the concerns of many worried constituents, yet that is exactly what appears to have happened when an august and unbiased body such as the Library says in its debate pack of
"most notable for not giving ground to objectors against masts".
I would be very interested to hear from the Minister about the outcome of yesterday's meeting between the Minister of State, Dr. Gibson, and Alan Meyer of Mast Action UK. What flaws in Government policy on planning permission for telecommunications masts did Mr. Meyer highlight in that meeting?
As things stand, the New Scientist of
We are much more likely to enjoy innovative solutions if we can give local communities more influence over how the increasing demand for supply is satisfied, and innovative solutions must involve things such as mast sharing and roaming, which operate very successfully on the continent.