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Mobile Telephone Mast (Canvey Island)

Volume 468: debated on Wednesday 28 November 2007

The Petition of Cheryl Oldroyd, residents of Canvey Island and others,

Declares that the proposal submitted by O2 to erect a mobile telephone mast on the High Street, Canvey Island, is unacceptable due to the ill-considered suitability of a busy residential and business area for such a structure. The petitioners emphasise the significant lack of understanding in respect of the longer-term effects of such telephone masts on the health of those within the immediate vicinity and particularly on young children. Whilst the petitioners acknowledge the need to erect and maintain such structures in the interests of business, they submit that more suitable locations for this structure are available, of which the applicant is already aware and should consider.

The Petitioners therefore request the House to urge the Government to encourage Castle Point Borough Councillors to reject the plans and seek an alternative, less densely populated area, in consideration of the wishes of residents.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Bob Spink, Official Report, 24 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 808 .] [P000069]

Observation from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

Decisions on planning and prior approval applications for telecommunications are, in the first instance, the responsibility of local planning authorities. The role of the Secretary of State in the appeal process requires the Government to remain impartial. If the Government were to pass comment or give advice relating to the case, we would be at risk of fettering the Secretary of State's discretion in the event that this matter was to proceed to an appeal. Government policy is not to interfere with the jurisdiction of local planning authorities unless it is absolutely necessary to do so and calling in cases for determination by the Secretary of State is comparatively rare.

Guidance on the handling of planning and prior approval applications is set out in Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) Note 8: Telecommunications. The policy states “Whilst local planning authorities are encouraged to respond positively to telecommunications development proposals, they should take account of the advice on the protection of urban and rural areas in other planning policy guidance notes. Material considerations include the significance of the proposed development as part of a national network. In making an application for planning permission, or prior approval, operators may be expected to provide evidence regarding the need for the proposed development.”

The guidance also states

“In order to limit visual intrusion, the Government attaches considerable importance to keeping the number of radio and telecommunications masts, and of the sites for such installations, to the minimum consistent with the efficient operation of the network”.

The Health Protection Agency's Radiation Protection Division continually monitors the health impact of mobile phone technologies. The research field was comprehensively reviewed in ‘Health Effects from Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields - Report of an independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation' (Documents of the National Radiological Protection Board, Volume 14, No 2 2003).

The report specifically mentions mobile telephone masts saying: “Exposure levels from living near to mobile phone base stations are extremely low, and the overall evidence indicates that they are unlikely to pose a risk to health”.

Nevertheless, the Government takes very seriously public concern about the possibility of health effects associated with telecommunications systems and has part financed the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) programme which has funded a number of studies in this area. The MTHR programme management committee published a report on 12 September 2007, describing the work it has supported in the UK and placing it in context with work going on undertaken elsewhere in the world. The research programme included the largest and most robust studies of electrical hypersensitivity undertaken anywhere in the world and found no convincing evidence that the unpleasant symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness and tingling, experienced by sufferers of electrical hypersensitivity are the result of exposure to signals from mobile phones or base stations. In addition, the programme funded some basic measurements of radio signals from smaller base stations in the UK such as those found in airports, railway stations and shopping mails and found that exposures were well below international guidelines.

As stated in PPG 8,

“It is the Government's firm view that the planning system is not the place for determining health safeguards. It remains central Government's responsibility to decide what measures are necessary to protect public health. In the Government's view, if a proposed mobile phone base station meets the ICNIRP guidelines for public exposure it should not be necessary for a local planning authority, in processing an application for planning permission or prior approval, to consider further the health aspects and concerns about them”. This remains the Government's position.