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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 am sure that when the Government finish their consideration of the reports under review, the hon. Gentleman's comments will be covered.

In respect of health issues and planning, many people would like councils to be able to take health concerns into account more when making decisions about telecommunications developments. As has been mentioned, on 12 November the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by the First Secretary of State against the decision of Sir Richard Tucker in relation to an application by T-Mobile for a shared mast in Harrogate.

The Court of Appeal gave consideration to the policy guidance, and found the policy to mean that where a certificate of compliance with exposure guidelines exists, only in exceptional circumstances would it be legitimate for a local planning authority to take public fears about health risks into account. The First Secretary of State decided not to petition the House of Lords for leave to appeal, because the decision raises policy issues rather than significant points of law. Therefore, as part of the wider review of planning arrangements for telecommunications masts, we are carefully considering the judgment.

However, it is clear that local planning authorities cannot simply be allowed to adopt their own precautionary policies, as that would be a recipe for confusion. Indeed, the NRPB's recent report supports the Government's view that although planning is necessarily a local issue, the assessment of evidence related to possible health concerns associated with exposures to radio frequency fields from base stations is best dealt with nationally. The role of the planning system is to assist local communities in determining the best location for telecommunications developments. We believe that that can be achieved only through effective local consultation processes. That is why the Government will continue to consider local consultation as being of the utmost importance.

In conclusion, I reassure hon. Members that the Government remain committed to ensuring that the essential infrastructure for modern telecommunications systems is developed sensitively, with environmental impact kept to a minimum, and with proper discussion with local communities. Therefore, we continue to listen to public and parliamentary concerns, and to consider the way forward.

Annotations

Simon Preedy
Posted on 29 Jun 2005 2:33 pm (Report this annotation)

In response to the Right Honourable Gentlemen's comments: "... In conclusion, I reassure hon. Members that the Government remain committed to ensuring that the essential infrastructure for modern telecommunications systems is developed sensitively, with environmental impact kept to a minimum, and with proper discussion with local communities. Therefore, we continue to listen to public and parliamentary concerns, and to consider the way forward..."

This 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 Group’s 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

Simon Preedy
Posted on 11 Sep 2005 10:23 am (Report this annotation)

Ref: the press article below: "Mast Row" - Pontefract & Castleford Express (1/9/05). I find it interesting that the UK's Planning Minister, Yvette Cooper MP, is backing her constituents in this case... yet seems reluctant to overhaul the planning procedures for Masts for this country at a Central Government level - and implement any of the 19 recommendations given to Government in a Report last year by the All Party Parliamentary Mobile Group, following their Public Inquiry into the Planning and Siting of Masts, that would ensure such instances as detailed in the article from occurring in the country again.

Ms Cooper must surely recognise the example detailed below is commonplace throughout the country and not just a "one off" in her constituency.

The example below - and one of many - gives weight to the argument that the Traffic Light Ratings Model for Public (?!) Consultation does not work effectively for residents and their communities, and the Operator's voluntary Code of Practice should be made statutory / mandatory?

The optional forms of Pre-Application Consultation under the TLR Model (within the Code) also need to be statutory in order to 'fall in line' with the Statement Keith Hill MP (the then Planning Minister) made in the House last December? People may recall that Mr Hill asserted the need for Operators AND LPAs to consult with local people WHEN MAKING DECISIONS ABOUT WHERE MASTS SHOULD GO. He said: "When I've talked to people about this they tell me they're not against Masts in principle, but rather Masts going up without any sense of PUBLIC consultation...Operators, local councils and the LOCAL COMMUNITY should be discussing telecommunications developments at the earliest stage possible in the planning process." As the Code is voluntary (and Pre-App consultation DIRECTLY with residents is optional within the voluntary Code), it appears this rarely happens though... and only if Operators are forced into it by proactive communities!

"Mast Row" - Pontefract & Castleford Express (1 September 2005):

Angry Airedale residents will be meeting mobile phone bosses later this month in a bid to stop plans for a 28ft mast in the middle of their estate.

More than 500 objectors backed by MP Yvette Cooper signed a petition against the mast to be built on a patch of grassland in Elizabeth Drive.

Bosses from Vodafone have now agreed to meet residents at a special drop-in session at Castleford Civic Centre on Wednesday September 21 from 4-7pm.

Petition organiser James Dakin, who lives on Elizabeth Drive, said: "A drop-in session suggests Vodafone wants to deal with residents individually instead of as a whole group. It could split people's opinions and we want to tackle the company together.
"This is typical of what's happening across the country with these masts. Mobile phone companies and councils just railroad them through despite the potential health risks. I would have expected the council to at least allow us to put in our objections first."

Ms Cooper said she had written to Vodafone three times to ask them to consult residents. She added: "I am appalled that Vodafone didn't meet residents before putting their planning application forward, despite having assured me three times that they would. "I am now urging them to conduct a proper consultation before anything goes ahead and that means listening to what residents have to say and not simply coming to talk to them."

A Wakefield Council spokesman said: "Planning permission for the mast was given to Vodafone on August 10. It was a delegated decision so it didn't need to go to full committee." END

Marre Dafforn
Posted on 28 Oct 2005 12:16 pm (Report this annotation)

The loopholes in the current planning system are numerous, and "milked" on regular occasions. Why consult , why have a Code if operators ignour the comments made?

It is very frustrating to see the same application for telcom equipment appear time and time again for the same site; it may be a slightly alterred application, followed with appeals if refused, and if this appeal is dismissed, the operators can and do just built the equipment anyway, knowing they can "use" the system and enforcement proceedings can be delayed for years: by issueing slightly alterred applications, or try retrospective application, or temporary permission year in year out, and if refused, appeal again which all means years of using what is unlawful development.

Surely no developer should be able to financially benefit for years from unlawful development, no matter what the development/ industry is?
Then after 4 years other issues restricting enforcement actions will be valid.

The current planning system does nothing to discourage developers to just use the system, until the proposed development has authorisation some-how. Or it is just build and commercially used even as "unlawful" development.

The Change to planning regulations SI 2005 2935,Written Ministerial Statements, Thursday 27 October 2005, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm20050...

"The amended permitted development regulations will subject all antennas, whether satellite dishes or any other type, to the same rules."

Seems to me that this just means more and larger antennas will be permitted on certain buildings. Less consultation and more antennas.

Simon Preedy
Posted on 28 Oct 2005 2:17 pm (Report this annotation)

Hi Marre,

Your comments are very validate and should be noted.

Councils generally follow Planning Policy Guidance from Central Government (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) - PPG8 (Planning Policy Guidance Note 8). However, those that do not follow this generally find their decisions being overturned, either by the Planning Inspectorate or the Courts, leaving them (& their taxpayers!) with costs.

PPG8 states: "In the Government's view, local planning authorities should not implement their own precautionary policies e.g. by way of imposing a ban or moratorium on new telecommunications development or insisting on minimum distances between new telecommunications development and existing development."

My local MP (Maria Miller, Conservative - Basingstoke) is working hard at a Central Government level, pressing them to overhaul the Planning System for Masts, which has wide cross-party support; being one of 19 recommendations that were presented to Government in a Report by the All Party Parliamentary Mobile Group, following their Public Inquiry on the Planning & Siting of Masts in May 2004, which both myself (as a resident) and B&DBC gave written and oral evidence at in Westminster - see: www.apmobile.org.uk

Maria contributed to a debate in the House on Telecoms in June 2005 - see weblink: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2005-06-28.345.1&... & is now considering asking the Government for a major debate on the Planning of Masts on the floor of the House, which I believe also has wide cross-party support.

Operators work to a Code of Practice that is a voluntary undertaking. Pre-Application Consultation directly with residents is an optional undertaking under this voluntary Code. I have always mantained that both should become statutory (and perhaps even regulated?!), to "fall in line" with the Statement made by the (then) Planning Minister, Keith Hill MP, in the House of Commons in December 2004. Mr Hill asserted the need for Operators and Local Planning Authorities to consult with local people WHEN MAKING DECISIONS ABOUT WHERE MASTS SHOULD GO. He said (quote): "When I've talked to people about this they tell me they're not against Masts in principle, but rather Masts going up without any sense of PUBLIC consultation...Operators, local councils and the LOCAL COMMUNITY should be discussing telecommunications developments at the earliest stage possible in the planning process." (unquote). This rarely happens, and only if Operators are forced into it by proactive communities... or individuals such as myself!

However, with the current Planning system in place, it appears compromises will need to be struck! With £22bn in Govt coffers coming from the Operator's 3G licenses, these Mast will eventually be placed somewhere!

As B&DBC's Leader, Councillor Paul Harvey, recently stated, changes that I had suggested B&DBC make to their Pre-Application processes may help us in placing pressure on Central Government to overhaul the planning process that is so desperately needed. We shall see!

As a Senior B&DBC Official recently stated: residents can call on ALL Councillors to actively engage in Pre-Application Consultations - that silence is the worst possible action, because what was the point of being elected if not to articulate a view, and where local democracy is undermined by conscious inaction it is a worrying thing.

Simon Preedy
Basingstoke Mast Campaigner