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.
What next for SHAM, I wonder?