MP speaks out over masts

Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert has used a House of Commons Debate to raise the issue of mobile phone masts. Speaking from the front bench in a Debate on David Curry MP's Telecommunications Masts (Planning Control) Bill on Friday (March 3), Mr Herbert said: "I, too, will be very brief. Like other hon Members, I should like to hear what the Minister has to say about the Bill. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr Curry) on introducing the Bill. Mobile phones are important to all our lives, but the growth in their use has, of course, been phenomenal. There are more than 62 million mobile phone subscribers now, compared with 9 million when the Government first came to power in 1997, and 85 per cent. of households now have mobile phones. "The background to the Bill is a concern of which all hon Members are aware from their constituencies. In the eyes of our constituents, masts can affect people's health, particularly when they are sited close to schools and medical facilities, without any proper consultation with local communities. As my right hon Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon and other Members have explained, the problem is that the siting of such masts is effectively outside the planning process. No proper consultation with communities therefore takes place and people feel disfranchised from the decisions that are taken. The Government's own expert committee urged that a precautionary approach be taken to the siting of masts. That is reflected in the Bill, which would ensure that new masts—not existing ones—would be subject to full planning permission and that health considerations could be taken into account when applications were considered. "The precise detail of the proposals will need to be examined and scrutinised—I hope in Committee. We will need to consider their impact on the number of applications and the extension of 3G coverage. The number of planning applications would certainly increase. All those aspects can be dealt with. "The principle of the Bill—that local communities should be properly consulted over the location of masts—must be right. For too long there has been a creeping attitude that the Government know best and a process whereby too many decisions are, in effect, taken out of local control and away from local communities. We have seen that in a number of areas of our lives where the say of local communities has been taken away and responsibility has been moved to a regional level—in relation to the police service, the fire service, planning decisions and so on—or to Government. The idea that it is wrong to consult local communities and involve them in such decisions and that no objections to the siting of masts may be brooked simply because the Government have judged that mobile phones are good for us all is profoundly anti-democratic. "The Labour manifesto for the last election stated, perfectly reasonably: "People want a sense of control over their own neighbourhood." "If that is to be adhered to and applied, the Government should support the principle behind the Bill and at least be willing to examine the Bill and discuss with us in Committee how it might operate. "Concern about the issue will grow. One suggestion is that 3G technology will require up to four times as many masts as at present. That would mean 135,000 more masts in the country—more than 200 for every constituency. The issue will not go away and it is no longer acceptable to sweep the concerns of local people aside. We must be capable of achieving a sensible balance. "I have left plenty of time in which the Minister can respond without talking out the Bill. If he is still speaking at 2.30 pm, the House will know that the Government's real intention is not to support the Bill. The Bill has had support from hon. Members on both sides of the House and I hope that the Government will therefore allow it to go into Committee so that it can be discussed further."

06 March 2006

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