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Telecommunications Masts

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:38 am on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party 10:38 am, 28th June 2005

My hon. Friend makes a point that I was about to make; people look to their local councils for an answer and, in the words of my hon. Friend Mrs. Miller, they are simply not heard. That has an effect on the reputation not only of local government, but of government itself.

There must be a single process whereby the rail network, church property, and Tetra masts are all treated exactly the same. I cannot put it more elegantly than a publication containing community news in the Cheadle constituency, which says:

"Decisions about masts should be taken at a local level with residents' concerns taken into account—that is certainly something I will be fighting for."

That was written by Mr. Stephen Day. Until the evidence proves otherwise, we must take health into consideration.

Bodies such as the Local Government Association could disseminate best practice and exchange information, thereby ensuring that councils are fully informed of the scientific research. Mr. Howarth was dismissive about a dodgy PowerPoint presentation—it was not the first such presentation, and I dare say that it will not be the last—but he rightly said that it was important to consider the health issues. I entirely agree with him that we should take a precautionary approach.

Visual intrusiveness is also an important concern. If full planning permission were required, the operators of telecommunications masts would take such things much more seriously. The balance that I suggested would be then redressed, as the operators would pay greater attention to ensuring that the masts were not such an eyesore.

Above all, we need greater consistency. We want to assist councils to develop greater master sharing and to formulate joint approaches for the future of mast development. Equally, councils must recognise that a single larger shared site can sometimes be visually intrusive.

I shall finish by citing my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold, who introduced this important debate. Two points that he made sum up what we need to do. My hon. Friend was right to say that politicians have a duty to listen to the public. He was equally right to say that in a democracy, the public should be consulted. In a participatory democracy where the politicians are responsible to the public, it is not just every four or five years that we are required to be responsible to them. The duty lies heavily on our shoulders, and we should never neglect it.