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:
A new planning application for the temporary addition of an extra microwave dish to support Olympics’ security onto the Fire Station mast has been submitted on behalf of Airwave Solutions Ltd, the operators of the TETRA based system already installed on the mast. This system provides encrypted communications for the emergency services: police, fire and ambulance, and would be removed after the Olympics by 30th September 2012. The Royal Borough of Greenwich has written to 625 households informing them of the application and offering an opportunity to comment.
According to the application documents the new dish is needed for “a temporary period up to and during the Olympic Games … to provide a critical back up communications link which is required for security reasons.” It won’t be used for the TETRA communications themselves, but to provide a direct microwave link to another TETRA communications mast within 50km – similar to the Port of London Authority mast on Shooters Hill which has a direct link to a PLA radar station at Blackwall Stairs. As such it transmits much lower power, just 50 milliwatts according to their ICNIRP Declaration, and in a narrow beam pointed at the receiving dish rather than broadcast in all directions. The ICNRP Declaration certifies that the dish is
“designed to be in full compliance with the requirements of the radio frequency (RF) public exposure guidelines of the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), as expressed in EU Council recommendation of 12th July 1999 “on limitation of exposure of the general public to electromagnetic fields (0 Hz – 300 Ghz)”.
Any comments on the application must be received by the council within 21 days of the date of the notification letter, which was 25 May 2012. Comments can be submitted online here, or by letter, quoting reference 12/1067/F to:
Directorate of Regeneration, Enterprise & Skills
Woolwich Centre 5th Floor
35 Wellington Street
London SE18 6HQ
The timescales seem quite tight if they want to install the new dish and have it working before the Olympics start on 27th July.
The number of communications masts around the summit of Shooters Hill are a testament to the hill’s appeal as a communication centre. However the hill’s height and prominence, which make it attractive for modern wireless communication, coupled with its position guarding the route from London to the coast, have made it appealing to communicators for centuries.
The marvellous Colonel A.H. Bagnold CB CMG tells a vivid and dramatic story of the hill’s role in message transmission before the advent of wireless communications. He places the start of its role as a Beacon Hill before the reign of Edward III (1312 – 1377), so about seven centuries ago. The complexity of the beacon system in Kent at the time of the Spanish Armada was plotted, on the map (or carde) shown above, by William Lambarde, who also founded the Queen Elizabeth College almshouse in Greenwich. Lambarde published the map in his book The Perambulation of Kent, credited as the first English county history, describing the reason it was drawn and how it could be used to decide the direction in which danger had been detected:
AS in warre, celeritie availeth no lesse, than force it selfe: So the Right honorable Sir William Brooke, Lord Cobham, and Lorde Chamberlaine of hir Majesties houshold (who hath been sole Lieutenant of this shire, since the first of hir Majesties Raigne) foreseeing how necessarie it was to have the forces of the countrie speedily draw togither, for the encounter of any hostilitie: and finding, that upon the fiering of the Beacons (which are erected for that service) not only the common sort, but even men of place and honour, were ignorant which way to direct their course, & therby (through amasednesse) as likely to run from the place affected, as to make to the succour of it: caused the true places of the Beacons to be plotted in Carde, with directorie lines, so many sundrie waies, as any of them did respect the other: By which, any man, with little labour may be assured, where the danger is, and thereof informe his neighbours. For example: suppose our first Beacon, standing on Shooters hill, to be light: he that will go thither may know by the watchmen from whence they received their light, which must be either from the West neare London, or Hamstede: or else from the East, by warrant of the fiered Beacon at Stone neare Dartford, or of that which is neare to Gravesende. The like of the rest: and so much for use.
Bagnold also describes the 1747 experiment in telegraphy using static electricity conducted on Shooters Hill by Dr Watson, bishop of Llandaff. The “observers” of the transmission stood on (insulating) amber while holding an earthed iron bar in one hand and the end of the two-mile long transmission wire in the other. A gun was fired when the transmission started and the observer timed the difference between when they heard the gun and when they received an electric shock!
Shooters Hill was a link in the next advance in communications as well – the Semaphore line. This used a set of rectangular frames containing six 5 foot high shutters to transmit messages between London and the coast. The first to be completed was between London and Deal in January 1796, with the following chain of stations: Admiralty (London), West Square Southwark, New Cross, Shooter’s Hill, Swanscombe, Gad’s Hill, Callum Hill, Beacon Hill (Faversham, branch point), Shottenden, Barham Downs, Betteshanger, Deal. The New Cross station was situated on Telegraph Hill – the Telegraph Hill Society’s web page includes a copy of a water colour sketch of the telegraph station, with the Shooters Hill station just visible in the distance. As can be seen in Pocock’s wood-cut below, the Shooters Hill station was on the ridge of the hill in an area known as Telegraph Field, which is now the site of the Memorial Hospital. (You may recognise the top of this picture because it used to form the banner picture for this blog). At its best this line could send a signal from London to Deal and back in two minutes. Perhaps this was the inspiration for the Disc World Clacks system which featured in various of Terry Pratchett’s books, such as the magical “Going Postal”, though the Ankh-Morpork system seems to have been considerably quicker than the UK Admiralty’s!
In the present day, as can be seen from the Ofcom mobile phone base station database, many of the communications masts on Shooters Hill are mobile phone or emergency service communication masts, including the Eaglesfield Road mast by the old fire station that was opposed by local residents led by SHAM. There are even mobile phone antennae attached to
Ham Radio enthusiasts also take advantage of Shooters Hill’s prominence, for example the Cray Valley Radio Society 2010 Summit was held in the highest pub in South London, the Bull at 416.7ft. The Society will be holding a Christmas Social Evening in the Bull in a couple of weeks time on Thursday 15th December 2011.
What next for communications in Shooters Hill? Well the 4G, or Long Term Evolution (LTE), technology is being trialled already – one trial by O2 includes the area around the Dome and Canary Wharf as well as central London. Live networks aren’t expected until 2014 beacause the frequencies won’t become available until analogue TV is switched off next year, but we can expect masts to be upgraded beforehand. And after that …. who knows, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Shooters Hill was still a communications centre.
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.
It’s been quite a while since the campaign against the fire brigade mast on Eaglesfield Road has been mentioned on here, but they’ve been very busy petitioning the locals, and attending planning meetings.
Since the start of their campaign, the group have already achieved something of a victory in their ongoing efforts to get the mast moved to the woods. They somehow discovered that Orange (who share the mast with the firefighters) had set their mobile widgets higher up than they had been permitted to (apparently this makes a difference). Orange’s mistake apparently invalidated previous planning permission, which has subsequently led to them having to reapply – and so far they have been refused; hence the appeal.
According to the online planning website, the previous planning permission sought by Orange in 2002 was also refused, but apparently they won on appeal – so presumably Orange are hoping to pull of a similar feat this time round. Despite this, popular opposition to the proposal has now been mobilised by the SHAM group, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens over the next month as the appeal proceeds, and any opposing comments are submitted.
There are lots of masts on the hill, almost 20 in fact, i must say the mobile reception has got a lot better…
Here’s a copy of the SHAM petition in text:
Residents Petition Against the Shooters Hill Masts
Please complete this petition; it will be collected by a SHAM (Shooters Hill Against Masts) member. It is important you complete your name and address to ensure the validity of the petition.
l/we the undersigned hereby support SHAM’s aims as outlined below in regard to the phone masts in the Shooters Hill area and in particular the powerful TETRA mast on Eaglesfield Road:
1. That Greenwich Council ensure masts ad [original typo] all existing mobile/TETRA/and other operators immediately remove their equipment from the Shooters Hill area and relocate them away from peoples homes in the area;
2. That Greenwich Council seek the immediate removal of the recently installed TETRA technology on the mast at Eaglesfield Road;
3. That OFCOM seek the immediate removal of various equipment on the masts which does not confirm to agreed licences and safety guidelines;
4. That the London Fire Brigade remove their mast on Eaglesfield Road and relocate it on one their own operational sites; and
5. That Greenwich Council refuse further planning applications from communications companies where these affect heavily populated communities.
Have you, your family or your pets experienced poor health that you think may be caused by or exacerbated by the radiation from the phone masts? If so, please give details below.
Mobile masts are something of a blot on the landscape, but are they are blot on sleep and other biological processes too? In recent years mobile operators have been busy improving their coverage in this area, with a growing collection of hilltop antenna, comprised of mobile, shipping, and most controversially emergency services base stations.
A recent TETRA related planning consultation period that expired on February the 17th has perhaps rather late in the day caused something of a stir. The mast is on eaglesfield road near the fire station. The opposition to proposals for the upgrading of equipment owned by airwave solutions has led to mo burgess of the greenwich conservatives writing to residents to survey local feelings on this topic; she explains in her letter that she has received a number of complaints. More recently, a number of posters have gone up on lamp posts in the area, with a couple of contact phone numbers at the bottom, not having rung them myself I’m not sure if they are to do with mo burgess.
Base stations in general are unpopular, partly because some of the masts are so menacing to look at, but airwave equipment in particular is seen as somewhat controversial because of the comparatively higher health risks thought to be associated with the encrypted TETRA radio specification they use. Firstly there’s the slow cooking problem, which relates to both those near base stations and handset users (in this case ambulance workers, firefighters and the police). Additionally there are the so called non-thermal effects associated with TETRA. The story about base station risks is fairly complex (i.e. I couldn’t fully grasp the main literature review after one very boring sitting), but it does seem that the continual repetition of signal oscillations at around 17Hz might (to me) be the mechanism behind the sleep disturbances reported in some of the survey findings, although the so-called nocebo (negative) effect can’t necessarily be ruled out in that study due to the way it was set up. This all led me to speculate that since neural firing patterns oscillate around 11-39Hz during open eyed wakefulness and 2-7Hz during sleep, a constant stream of 17Hz signal frequencies pulsing through ones bedroom wall and head at night could potentially induce wakefulness?
The experiments on the topic is divided into two camps, and Epidemiologists haven’t really been able to investigate TETRA yet as they probably need more time (they are now going over >10 year data for GSM and even that has been divisive). The general scientific consensus seems to be that more long-term adverse health affects have not been ruled out for this technology, and with the previous concerns over some of the signal frequencies and microwave radiation used in TETRA, the response of some people is quite reasonably, “Why should we be the guinea pigs!”