Just before the Olympics, you may remember, Airwave Solutions were given planning permission for the temporary addition of an extra microwave dish onto the Fire Station mast. It was just a back up communications link for security reasons, and they said that it would be removed after the Olympics, by 30th September 2012. Then they decided they’d like to keep this temporary dish after all and applied for planning permission in June 2013 to retain the dish. Not only was this nine months after the date that the dish was supposed to have been removed by, but also part of their justification for keeping this new dish in a conservation area was that “The Dish is already in situ and as such there will be no alteration to the appearance of the site.” This second application was turned down. The reason for refusal said that (see planning application 12/2933/F on the Royal Borough of Greenwich planning pages):
The proposed telecommunications equipment would fail to enhance or better reveal significance, would neither sustain or enhance the significance of the designated heritage asset (the Conservation Area), nor the setting of the adjoining designated heritage asset (the Listed Fire Station) and would increase visual clutter, …
Now Airwave Solutions have appealed to the Planning Inspectorate against the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s decision. Interestingly the case for the appeal claims that retention of the disk “will result in less than substantial harm and will preserve and sustain the character of the conservation area”. I think there must be a typo in their appeal statement as it also says that “… the visual amenity of the site and surrounding area has been unacceptably compromised by the introduction of this single insignificant dish, …”. We have until 15th May to comment on the appeal. This can be done online through the planning portal, or by writing in triplicate to:
The Planning Inspectorate
Temple Quay House
2 The Square, temple Quay
Bristol, BS1 6PN
Appeal letters should quote reference number APP/ES330/A/14/2216812. The appeal is based on the documents and comments submitted to the Planning Inspectorate and a site visit by the Inspector on a date after 15th May.
‘But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.’
‘Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them had you? I mean like actually telling anybody or anything.’
‘But the plans were on display …’
‘On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them’
That’s the display department.’
‘With a torch.’
Ah, well the lights had probably gone.’
‘So had the stairs.’
‘But look, you found the notice didn’t you?’
‘Yes,’ said Arthur, ‘yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard.’
Arthur Dent‘s experience with his local planning department came to mind today as I tried to get hold of the documents detailing a new planning application, 12/2933/F – Permanent retention of 1x300mm diameter transmission dish. LFEPA MAST, EAGLESFIELD ROAD, PLUMSTEAD, SE18. When I first saw the application online yesterday it didn’t include any information describing what was proposed, just correspondence.
I was greeted at the Woolwich Centre by a friendly man who directed me to a booth in the corner where planning documents were kept and gave me a phone number to use on the courtesy phones if the documents I needed weren’t there. They weren’t, so I dialled 5222 and spoke to another friendly, helpful council officer. We mostly spoke mostly about an old application that I was looking for, but I discovered that due to shortages of storage space the council no longer keep the paperwork for planning applications over 4 or 5 years old, which is a problem when the process takes longer as it does sometimes for significant developments. I tried the council PC in the phone booth, but it had a version of the council web site from 2012 with a non-working link to planning searches.
12/2933/F is a recent application so I was directed to a pair of large filing cabinets downstairs in the corner of the library. Here the folders containing application paperwork are tightly packed in numerical order. The one I wanted wasn’t there, so I checked a few either side in case of misfiling then went to ask the library staff if it could be somewhere else, waiting to be refiled. “We don’t deal with that.” I was informed, “That’s the responsibility of the Planning Department.”
Back to the filing cabinets where I searched through the drawers of applications, but no luck. Back upstairs and dialled 5222 again. “Ah, maybe someone up here has the file.” Which they did, and it was brought down to me in the library. I finally photocopied the documents about an hour after arriving at the Woolwich Centre.
When I got home all the documents were now online!
The application documents were equally annoying. They referred to the application about a year ago for the temporary installation on the Eaglesfield mast of an extra microwave dish to support Olympics’ security. The Design and Access Statement from that application said (the text in bold is in the original):
It needs to be borne in mind that the proposed development is for 1 additional temporary microwave dish which is required to be installed for use during the Olympic period. The dish will be removed by 30/09/12.
So not only is the dish they promised to remove by last September, nine months ago, still there, but now they’ve changed their minds about it being temporary and want to keep it. To rub salt into the wound part of the justification for keeping this new dish in a conservation area is that “The Dish is already in situ and as such there will be no alteration to the appearance of the site.” You couldn’t make it up.
The dish was originally installed to provide a back up communications link, required for security reasons during the Olympics. It provided a direct microwave link to another TETRA communications mast within 50km. The new application is also to provide a communications link, replacing their existing system based on the BT kilostream product. The application doesn’t say what the link will be communicating with, but it appears to be pointed towards London City Airport according to the maps supplied. The snippet above shows the beam directed over the old fire-station and then down Eglinton Hill.
The application includes an ICNRP Declaration, which declares that the dish conforms to the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) requirements for radio frequency (RF) public exposure: effectively declaring the design safe. As it transmits “only 50 milliwatts, approximately a thousandth of the energy of a light bulb, and 200 times lower than the energy from a mobile telephone base station”, there is less concern for safety. It is also focused in a narrow beam pointing above the roofs of nearby houses.
Everyone who lives near the mast, 627 addresses altogether, should get a letter inviting comments on the application. I haven’t received mine yet, I assume it’s in the post.
The planning system had one last aggravation for me. I decided to track changes to 12/2933/F using the online system, but it requested that I register first, something I’ve been trying to do since April. I entered all my details again only to get the same error message that I reported to the council 3 months ago yet again:
Will the new 4G mobile phone system interfere with our Freeview TV reception? We may find out next week when a test is being run in south-east London, including parts of Greenwich. A company called at800, a brand name for Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited (DMSL), is running the tests. Their press release said:
A test to help understand the extent to which 4G at 800 MHz may disrupt Freeview is being run in south east London. at800 is asking viewers in the area to report problems with television reception from Monday 15 April. at800 is the organisation tasked with ensuring viewers continue to receive Freeview when 4G mobile services at 800 MHz are launched later this year.
Approximately 170,000 household and business addresses in parts of Greenwich, Lewisham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets are being contacted directly to alert them to the test. This larger-scale testing follows an initial small-scale test in the West Midlands.
Households that at800 think will be affected will be sent a postcard like the one below in the next few days.
The 800MHz 4G band is very close to the 700MHz band frequencies used by Freeview. Co-channel interference is inevitable, especially for homes close to a 4G base station and where aerial amplifiers are used. Interference may well be variable and intermittent, making it harder to tie cause to effect.
It was estimated by Ofcom that that the problem could affect up to 2.3million homes, but in an initial pilot study covering 22,000 homes in the Midlands only 15 homes suffered interference.
If you live in the south east London area and notice problems with your Freeview service from 15 April, please contact at800 by calling 0333 31 31 800. You will be asked for your postcode, the type of interference and the time it occurred. This will allow at800 to restore your service as soon as possible. Freeview is the television that viewers receive through their aerial.
Most cases of interference can be solved by fitting a filter between the TV and aerial, and at800 will provide one filter to each affected household. The at800 website has details of what needs to be done in different situations, and of the support that will be provided. In the worst case, where a filter doesn’t solve the problem then at800 will provide an alternative such as Freesat or cable at a cost of up to £10,000.
Cable and Satellite TV will not be affected by the 4G signal, only over the air, digital terrestrial television, to aerials.
The well-supported opposition to the mobile communications mast next to the old fire station in Eaglesfield Road received a setback recently with the decision by the Planning Inspectorate to allow the appeal by Orange PCS Ltd against the Council’s decision to refuse consent for retention of the existing equipment on the mast.
This means that Orange can keep their dishes on the mast.
As discussed in previous posts, many local people opposed the application, led by SHAM (Shooters Hill Against Masts). There were 89 objections to the original application, and a substantial number signed a petition demanding removal of the mast completely. However removal of the mast wasn’t really within the scope of this appeal; it was just about the specific Orange dishes. And it was always going to be tough to defend the Council’s decision to refuse permission to keep this existing equipment, especially as they had previously granted permission for the TETRA-based equipment that also adorns the mast.
All seats were full at the appeal meeting, back in September, and a number of people spoke against the mast. They were supported by local MP Clive Efford and Councillors Jagir Sekhon and Danny Thorpe. Objectors spoke passionately about the impact of the mast on the Shrewsbury Park Conservation Area and the grade II listed former fire station, and concerns that installation of additional equipment on the mast would result in an eyesore like the nearby Oxleas Wood mast. They also pointed out the disparity in treatment between the mobile operator putting dishes on the mast, and householders in the Laing Estate who face restrictions on installation of satellite dishes because they live in a conservation area. The Planning Inspector, John Papworth, was scrupulous in ensuring that everyone had a chance to state their case, but in his report concluded that the appearance of the mast wasn’t significantly changed by the equipment that the appeal was considering, and that it could even be considered that the mast had an historical association with the former fire station.
Safety is the one of the prime concerns of the objectors, who spoke persuasively about the need to adopt the precautionary principle, erring on the side of safety, when considering the potential impact on health. The Health and Safety Manager representing Orange initially reduced his credibility by admitting that he had taken his radiofrequency emission readings at 3.00pm, far from a peak usage time for mobile phones. However he had taken readings from a number of places, including flats in the Fire Station closest to the mast. His readings had shown that the radiofrequency levels are less than 1% of World Health Organisation approved guidelines, and he stated that at peak times this would only increase by a fraction of a percent. The Inspector concluded that given “…current advice relating to the likelihood of harm from these installations, the health objections raised are outweighed by the benefits of telecommunications”.
Safety of radiofrequency emissions is subject to some dispute, with current scientific evidence in disagreement with anecdotal evidence of harmful effects. Without getting into the details of the debate, one thing is clear: many people are very concerned about potential health impacts of mobile phone masts. I’m sure I would be if I lived very close to one. It’s surprising that more is not being done by telecommunications and government organisations to allay fears, and where necessary adopting the precautionary principle and ensuring masts aren’t too close to homes.