MP bids to change planning laws for mobile phone masts Back to Local Government

Publisher: Jon Land Published: 03/03/2006 - 15:21:08 PM

Mobile phone mast

A bid to change planning laws relating to mobile phone masts was launched in the Commons today with cross party backing.

Leading the move, Tory former minister David Curry said his aim was not to put forward proscriptive plans.

"My Bill is an invitation for the industry and Government to engage in discussion to find a better planning framework..." he said. "It is an invitation to negotiate."

Introducing his Telecommunications Masts (Planning Control) Bill, Mr Curry (Skipton and Ripon) said there was huge and growing concern about the siting of phone masts.

He said even the mobile phone operators themselves accepted there was more to be done to take account of public concerns but previous attempts to change the law had foundered.

Mr Curry also spoke about public fears of health risks linked to mobile phones.

Although there was no current evidence that they were harmful, he drew on his experience at the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food during the BSE crisis to sound a note of caution.

"I've been around long enough to know that politicians and scientists can only offer current evidence.

"They don't deal in certainties, they don't deal in guarantees, the public increasingly does ask for certainty and guarantees," he said.

Sir William Stewart has carried out research into possible health risks associated with mobiles and recommended a continued "precautionary approach" to the use of such technology, Mr Curry told the House.

And the MP added that legislation on this matter should take into consideration the possibility that advice on phone use might change.

He said that there was a "deep level of suspicion" over the issue.

"I don't think that is healthy.

"I think we need to do this in such a transparent way that the industry feels that its future is secure and that this constant local guerrilla wars, as it were, no longer have to be fought, the public doesn't feel threatened, intimidated or taken advantage of, local authorities don't feel overburdened," he said.

Labour's Andrew Dismore (Hendon) said he would support the Bill but called for changes to make it more straightforward.

He said mobile phone masts were a "major issue" in his constituency, adding: "I think Orange is probably the main culprit, closely followed by T Mobile and Vodafone.

"And they do seem to try and wear down communities and their opposition to it by repeat applications, by continuing appeals.

"They wear down local authority planning departments and, frankly, something has to be done about it."

He said that there had been an application for a mast to go on top of Barnet Hospital, which was declined, as well as a 3G mast upgrade, which does not need consent, at Copthall School.

Mr Dismore added that 3G upgrades had led to a "huge upsurge" of planning applications.

For the Liberal Democrats, Andrew Stunell expressed support for the Bill.

Mr Stunell said the "elephant in the room" was the "fantastic" sums of money involved in the industry.

He said: "Any constraint on their trade is viewed by them with the utmost suspicion."

There was "no way" that the current planning exemptions could now be justified. The industry was capable of paying £30 billion for the next generation of mobile phone technology licences.

Labour's Nia Griffith (Llanelli) supported the Bill and warned of a "Christmas tree effect" whereby once a mast has been approved other phone companies placed masts on the same site.

Tory David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) said residents had to constantly "battle" with different phone companies who made repeated applications for masts. He added that when one operator was refused, another would then apply for a mast on the same site.

Tobias Ellwood (C Bournemouth E) said that with the 3G masts there could be as many as 100,000 masts in the UK - more than double the numbers now. Just because everyone used mobile phones it did not mean there should not be regulation.

For the Tories, Nick Herbert said: "The principle of the Bill that local communities should be properly consulted must be the right one.

"For too long there has been a creeping attitude that government knows best and too many decisions are being taken away from local control and local communities."

He urged the Government not to talk out the Bill.

But Jim Fitzpatrick, a junior minister in the office of the Deputy Prime Minister, said the Government could not support the measure and was still speaking when time ran out at 2.30pm.

Mr Fitzpatrick said there was concern about perceived health risks, although research evidence suggested there was no health risk from the masts.

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He said ministers were determined to "move" on the issue but not through this particular piece of legislation.

"We are giving it attention and will be giving it a lot more attention in the months ahead."

Mr Fitzpatrick said the more people who used mobile phones, the greater was the need for base stations.

There was considerable disquiet about the infrastructure but the Government believed the current planning arrangements "broadly strike the right balance".

Rejecting claims that the Government's objections to the Bill stemmed from the large amounts of income brought in by mobile phone licences as "scurrilous," he added: "There is no skullduggery going on here."

Ministers had already strengthened the planning regulations twice since 1997.

Copyright Press Association 2006.

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