A private member's Bill to tighten planning controls on mobile phone masts was given an unopposed first reading after Labour MP Debra Shipley said the report of the government's independent expert group was having very mixed outcomes at appeals.
Ms Shipley, MP for Stourbridge, who has cross-party support, said communities across the country were concerned about the siting of such masts and their effects on health, especially in children. Dudley MBC, supported by hundreds of petitioners, had rejected proposals by Vodafone to site a telecommunications mast a short distance from a school and a nursery. Upholding the company's appeal, the inspector referred to the report of the expert group chaired by William Stewart, concluding that exposure to radio frequency radiation below guideline levels did not cause adverse health effects.
But Ms Shipley said the Stewart report concluded 'that it is not possible at present to say that exposure to radio frequency radiation, even at levels below national guidelines, is totally without potential adverse health effects, and that gaps in the knowledge are sufficient to justify a precautionary approach.'
Ms Shipley commented: 'These points are, in my view, sufficient to raise serious and legitimate health concerns and they have been interpreted as such by an appeals inspector. The inspector dismissed an appeal by Orange against the decision of the London borough of Harrow to refuse to grant approval for a mobile telecommunications mast.'
Orange, like Vodafone in Dudley, had appealed under section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act - but the outcomes were different.
Ms Shipley added: 'Since my decision to present a Bill to the house on this issue, many colleagues have contacted me and offered support. In addition, I have received representations from across Britain. It is no exaggeration to say that thousands and thousands of people want much stronger legislation regarding mobile phone masts. I know of them in areas including Luton, Brighton, Forset of Dean, Conwy, Dartford, Hendon, Harrow and many more.
'Overwhelmingly, people want to know that they will be fully consulted, that their views will be listened to and that local decisions will be valued. They do not want local decisions that are supported by their democratically-elected representatives to be overturned.'
The one dissenting voice was Michael Fabricant, Conservative MP for Lichfield, who said Ms Shipley had tried to imply there was a real health danger from mobile phone masts. The Stewart report's caution applied specifically to the use of a mobile phone where the antenna was close to the head.
The Crystal Palace television transmitter gave out 1, kW of power - or one million watts - on its analogue television transmissions. In addition, for each of its digital services, it gives off a further 10,000 watts.
Mr Fabricant added: 'Those frequencies are similar to those used by Vodafone and Orange. However, neither at Crystal Palace, where such transmissions have been going on for more than 50 years, nor, indeed, at Sutton Coldfield, which serves my areas and where similar transmissions are used - I repeat that the power is more
than one million watts - is there any evidence of health problems. There is no clustering of leukaemia; nor are there other carcinogenic dysfunctions in the area.
He asked whether Ms Shipley knew the power of an average mobile phone mast. 'It is not one million watts or 1,000 watts - it is between 50 and 100 watts. That is the same power as an average light bulb,' said Mr Fabricant, who said Ms Shipley may have unwittingly increased the fears of parents.
Because Mr Fabricant did not press his opposition to a vote, the Bill was given an unopposed first reading. It stands no chance of becoming law because of lack of parliamentary time, but it increases pressure on government to review current controls and guidance on the siting of telecoms masts.
Hansard 28 Feb: Column 908-912