AM is 'fooling public on phone masts'

Feb 16 2006

Martin Shipton, Western Mail

AN Assembly Member has been accused of abandoning personal convictions after voting against moves to tighten controls on mobile phone masts.

Deputy Planning Minister Tamsin Dunwoody is under fire for campaigning against such a mast in her own constituency but failing to object to plans that would make it more difficult for masts to be erected.

Last week Ms Dunwoody, the AM for Preseli Pembrokeshire, voted with Labour colleagues to defeat a Plaid Cymru proposal that would have obliged firms to go through the full planning process before being granted permission to build phone masts. The Plaid motion was lost by two votes.

Many people have health concerns about the siting of masts near schools and homes. Last June, in an earlier debate about the issue, Ms Dunwoody made a passionate speech outlining the extent of her worries. She said, "A temporary mast has been erected on top of the police station in the centre of Haverfordwest. It is indeed in close proximity to several schools, one of which is Portfield, a school specialising in special educational needs. The children at this school represent those who are most vulnerable and most at risk from anything in society.

"I have huge concerns about the location of this mast, and I would have concerns about its location if it were to be put in Usmeston. I must reflect the concerns of my constituents and their understandable fears about something that is being placed in their midst. They will be as aware that I have written to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Home Office, the Minister for Environment, Planning and Countryside and the Minister for Health and Social Services. I have possibly written to every single person who has any influence over this matter, including the Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning, to whom I have written regarding taking children out of school. My constituent's children have been taken out of school to be taught at home, and that can only be to their disadvantage.

"I echo the need for the siting of any mast, including allegedly temporary masts, to go through the full planning process."

Plaid Cymru AM Owen John Thomas accused Labour AMs in general and Ms Dunwoody in particular of "deceiving the public".

He said, "A recent report by the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) concluded, 'that while there is no hard evidence that mobile phone masts pose a health threat, particular attention should be given to minimise the exposure of potentially vulnerable groups, such as children, who may be particularly sensitive to radio waves'.

"When I raised this point with the Environment Minister Carwyn Jones he said, 'You are right about the review published in January 2005 and we will be looking at the results to see what might be done in order to examine the guidance again'.

"Plaid Cymru's motion last week presented an opportunity for local authorities to give due consideration to the NRPB's recommendations. Unfortunately the Labour group opposed the motion and it was defeated.

"The public should be aware that some of those Labour AMs only six months ago in the Assembly called for tighter controls on mobile phone masts. Indeed, the Labour AM representing Preseli Pembrokeshire, told the Assembly that her constituents had taken their children out of school over the issue.

"It would seem that Labour AMs when called to toe the party line are prepared to abandon any personal convictions along with any concern for the safety of the public."
Last night an Assembly Government spokeswoman issued a statement on behalf of Ms Dunwoody saying, "The motion under consideration would have meant that there would be no legal distinction between telegraph poles and masts and did not add anything to the precautionary approach already used by the Welsh Assembly Government in such planning issues."

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