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Telecommunications Masts

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:21 am on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Shadow Minister (Education) 10:21 am, 28th June 2005

I am here to express some of the concern and anger felt by a great number of my constituents who have been affected by mobile phone masts in recent months and years. In many ways, they feel powerless to get any action when an application is made to put a mobile phone mast in the vicinity of their homes or of other services that they may use.

I am in an interesting situation, as my borough council, Basingstoke and Deane, has been held out as a model authority for its use of the code of conduct in that respect. Despite that, there is still the feeling among local people that they are not getting their point of view across. Our local council works closely with mobile phone operators, but my constituents feel that their concerns are not heard, whether because of the short time—eight weeks—that is allowed for the discussion process, or whether because the issues that they feel are important are simply not taken into account.

It may be useful to consider a very real and current problem in my constituency. The mast under discussion will actually be sited in the constituency of my right hon. Friend Sir George Young—on the Kingsclere road in the Newbury road roundabout area—but it will directly affect people in my area. The plan is to erect a 15 m telecommunications tower with three antennae. There have been numerous letters of objection from local residents about visual intrusion, anxiety about health effects, spoiled views of the countryside—the area borders some beautiful Hampshire countryside—the fact that other masts are already located in the area, and, importantly, the fact that the proposed mast would be too close to residents and to schools.

A local ward councillor, Mrs. Sue Peters, has taken up the cause and has been expressing the concerns of local residents directly in the council. The proposal is to put up a mast some 45 m from property and 180 m from a special educational needs school for children with severe learning difficulties. Hon. Members may be aware that the National Radiological Protection Board issued a warning this year about the location of such masts near such schools.

Despite the deep concern, the application has been recommended for approval. Frankly, little account has been taken of the concerns that have been expressed by local residents. As my hon. Friend Mr. Horam said, councils are not always able to act in the best interests of their residents. There is an urgent need for a review of planning matters governing mobile phone masts. Residents feel powerless, local elected representatives feel that their hands are tied behind their backs, and mobile phone operators are operating within a code of conduct and within legislation that does not take account of the issues that are most important to my constituents.

I look forward to hearing the Minister's views. There is a need for an urgent review, for a requirement for full planning permission for all mobile phone masts, for accountability on the part of local councillors for their decisions, for residents to be able to participate fully in the making of those decisions, for councils to be allowed to take health concerns into account and, importantly—particularly in my constituency, where house building is still going on at a rapid rate—for planning for the future. In the new communities in my constituency, land is not allocated for masts. We should do more to predict the system's future needs, and should plan mobile phone masts as part of infrastructure development.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold mentioned the comments in New Scientist

Annotations

Simon Preedy
Posted on 1 Jul 2005 8:48 am (Report this annotation)

Thanks to Maria, the MP for my area, for her input. Due to her input regarding the Mast application that she referred to (from 3), and objections from Sir George Young MP, Basingstoke & Deane Borough & County Councillors & the Council Leader, the Council's Development Control Committee unanimously refused the application on 29 June!

Consultation is simply not happening!

When Operator's DO send out letters to Borough & Parish Councils prior to application, they are placing the onus on these Councillors to advise them of other "stakeholders" (ie: residents) that may wish to be consulted prior to application. The Operators rely on the simple fact that the majority of Councillors appear not to respond & that's where the system falls down! I am currently addressing this with B&DBC & both the Hampshire & Basingstoke Assns of Town & Parish Councils.

I have asked Maria to raise some Written Parliamentary Questions to the Planning Minister; along the lines of the conversations we had when I met with her on 17 June:

1. Why the Government has not implemented any of the 19 recommendations given to them last year in the Report from the All Party Parliamentary Mobile Group, following their Public Inquiry into the Planning & Siting of Masts - many of their Recommendations were points raised in this debate. See: www.apmobile.org.uk

2. Why the Operator's Code of 'Best' (I use that term loosely!) Practice should not become a statutory requirement (rather than just a voluntary undertaking as it is at present!) and the 'optional' forms of Pre-Application Consultation directly with residents (ie: "Drop In" Sessions / Leaflets & Mailshots etc) are not made mandatory. If all this were undertaken, it would 'fall in line' with what the (then) Planning Minister, Keith Hill MP, said last December! See: http://www.odpm.gov.uk/pns/displaypn.cgi?pn_id=2004_0308

3. The need for the Operators and their Code of Practice to be regulated.

In September last year the ODPM commissioned the University of Reading and Arup to undertake an independent study to assess the impact that the code of best practice on mobile phone network development has had since its introduction. Very much like the AP Mobile Groups Inquiry, both myself (as a resident) & Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council gave written & oral evidence for the Arup study as well! The ODPM tell us their Report will be published in due course. It will be very interesting to know the findings of their Report... & just what this Government intends to do with it! If it's anything like the All Party Parliamentary Mobile Group's Recommendations following their Inquiry, probably nothing!!

Simon Preedy
Basingstoke Mast Campaigner