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Telecommunications Masts

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:46 am on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (London) 10:46 am, 28th June 2005

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but if he will allow me, I will come to the precautionary aspect, particularly in relation to health, in a moment.

An announcement on the outcome of the research that the Minister for Housing and Planning announced on 4 April will be made as soon as possible.

I turn now to supplementary planning guidance. On 9 December 2004, my right hon. Friend Keith Hill, the then Minister for Housing and Planning, issued a written statement on improving local consultation. It placed a renewed emphasis on the importance of the annual roll-out discussion process described in the code of best practice on mobile phone network development. The Government strongly believe that information sharing and negotiation at an early stage could greatly reduce levels of concern and conflict when specific applications are made in line with the agreed local plan or strategy. Therefore, we consider it desirable that, in their local development frameworks, local planning authorities should consider how they plan to manage the developments needed to meet the growing demand for communication services.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister commissioned a study from Reading university and Arup to assess what impact the code of best practice, which was published in 2002, has had since its introduction, and how the public perceive its operation. We have received the research report and are carefully considering its recommendations, and particularly how we might take them forward in the context of the wider review of the planning arrangements for telecommunications masts. We will publish the research report in due course as part of that wider review.

I turn now to the health concerns mentioned by many right hon. and hon. Members. Like them, the Government understand that public concern about the siting of mobile phone base stations is fuelled by health concerns. Let me assure hon. Members that the Government take seriously the need to protect the public from potential health risks.

We have had two major reviews of the evidence regarding health effects due to exposure to radiofrequency transmissions associated with mobile phone handsets and base stations. The first, by the independent expert group on mobile phones, was in 2000; the second, by the National Radiological Protection Board's advisory group on non-ionising radiation, was in 2004. Both reports concluded that the overall evidence indicates that mobile base stations are unlikely to pose a risk to health, because exposure levels are extremely low. However, both reports recognised that scientific uncertainty requires a precautionary approach to such technologies and further research. I assure hon. Members that any changes will continue to reflect the precautionary approach.

The Government established the mobile telephone health research programme, which is costing around £7.36 million and is jointly funded by Government and industry. We are currently considering continuing the programme, as recommended in the NRPB's report "Mobile Phones and Health", which was published in January.

I shall now refer to the comments that my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East made.

Annotations

Amanda Wesley
Posted on 2 Jul 2005 5:46 pm (Report this annotation)

This, I'm afraid, is a typically ill-informed response from the ODPM.

Sitefinder does not show all masts, and is not accessible much of the time. In Pembrokeshire, for example, the Local Authority recently discoved that there were thirteen TETRA masts rather than the six they were aware of. Local residents located many of these themselves, and not through sitefinder.

The other comments about consultation etc demonstrate that the minister is either unaware or not prepared to acknowledge the fact that the dictionary definition is different to the ODPM's definition.

Moreover, I question the validity of the ARUP study, which did not consult with all organisations representing the views of the victims of government policy. Another case of lies, damn lies and statistics?

Simon Preedy
Posted on 4 Jul 2005 4:58 pm (Report this annotation)

In response to the Right Honourable Gentlemen's comments. Consultation WITH RESIDENTS 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 have asked my MP (Maria Miller), who kindly contributed to this debate, 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