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ALL-PARTY SUPPORT TO TOUGHEN CONTROLS OVER TELECOM MASTS

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Hansard 1 Mar: Column 425-428 ...
Hansard 1 Mar: Column 425-428

A private member's Bill, backed by MPs of all parties, called for regulation of telecommunications masts throughout the UK by new planning laws.

Introducing the Bill, John Bercow, Conservative MP for Buckingham, said it was not intended to hamper the legitimate growth of the industry and, in his, the measure would be unlikely to do so.

However, there was widespread concern on both health and environmental grounds about mobile telephones 'and the frenetic proliferation of masts in particular'.

He added: 'The government contend that there is no conclusive proof of a threat to health. Nevertheless, studies undertaken in Australia, Poland, Sweden and the United States have raised the spectre of dizzy spells, fatigue, headaches, memory loss, skin irritation, damage to

the immune system, brain damage and cancer.

'Anxiety about those conditions is such that, in the US, now fewer than 39 states have so far decided to prevent any further erection of mobile telecommunication masts pending the generation of greater confidence in the technology, while in Australia a ban has been imposed on the erection of such masts fewer than 500 metres from homes, hospitals and schools'.

He said the National Radiological Protection Board should be instructed to undertake further studies, and its reports, along with report of the European Commission's expert group on mobile

phones and from the World Health Organisation, should be debated by MPs.

But the nub of the problem, he said, derived from planning policies. Planning policy guidance note 8 contained a presumption in favour of development. It was expected that local authorities, in responding to applications from licensed operators, would do so positively and without questioning the need for the erection of new masts.

That was compounded because under paragraph 24 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order a general permission is conferred on licensed operators to erect new masts, subject to the caveat that they should be less than 15 metres high and should not be

situated in areas of outstanding natural beauty, conservation areas, national parks or sites of special scientific interest.

Mr Bercow added: 'Apart from that, the position for the local community and its elected representatives is very difficult. The councils have only a short period in which to object, meagre

grounds on which to do so, and, judging bytheir record, limited success in the process. The effect of such arrangements, whatever their intention, has been to give a green light to companies such as Orange plc to ride roughshod over the wishes of local residents in the village of Long Crendon in my Buckingham constituency, where the company proposes to erect a new mast a mere 130 metres from the boundary of a local school - with scant, if any, serious

consultation with the local community that will thereby be affected'.

He said the rules might have been appropriate for generating a national network, but now the network existed radical changes were needed to show respect for the environment, human safety and the tranquility of communities.

'That is why we should amend planning policy guidance note 8 to ensure that proper account is taken of community concerns. Full planning permission for masts on greenbelt land, listed buildings, wildlife sites, and sites near areas already protected by law is urgently needed', said Mr Bercow.

'Full planning permission is also needed for sites near homes,schools and hospitals. It should be obligatory for mobile phone operators to provide one or two-year plans to local councils outlining

their mast intentions; it would thus be possible for councils to know what was sought and to assesss its validity. More encouragement of mast sharing is required through linking it more integrally with the planning process'.

The Telecommunications Masts (Development) Bill was given an unopposed first reading. Because of lack of parliamentary time it is unlikely to make progress this session, but the government will note the all-party support for the measure - and of the fact that since the general

election the concern has been reflected by MPs in 96 written questions, five oral questions, four early-day motions and three adjournment debates.

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