Mast switch off looms after court victory

STEVE DOWNES
13 March 2006 | 09:30

A mobile phone giant could be ordered to switch off a controversial communications mast after backing down in the latest leg of a "David and Goliath" battle.

O2 was set to go head-to-head with Matthew Pennington and his four-year-old son Henry in the High Court in London next month over the mast on North Walsham police station.

The father and son, who live 100 yards from the police station, are taking on the phone firm because of fears about the impact of radiation from the mast on people's health.

But, with solicitors putting the final touches to their cases, O2 has effectively conceded defeat and invited judges to rule in the father and son's favour - as has the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM).

Now the critical test case is set to go to a new, make or break, planning appeal, more than a year after an inspector appointed by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, gave the go-ahead to the equipment.

And officers at North Norfolk District Council, which threw out the application before the inspector overturned the decision, could now demand that O2 switches off the mast until the appeal is concluded.

Mr Pennington, who has moved his family to rented accommodation in Trunch, near North Walsham, because of his worries about the mast, was unavailable for comment last night.

But, speaking on Friday, before O2 withdrew from the case, he said: "This Tetra system uses new microwave technology which has never been tested properly. It could be dangerous. There has been lots of concern from people in the area."

The saga began in 2003, when residents complained of nosebleeds, headaches, dizziness, skin rashes and lack of sleep when O2 switched on the Tetra technology, which is used to power the police's radio system.

North Norfolk councillors then rejected a planning application for the equipment, which was an extension to an existing mast. The application had been submitted after it went live.

The council also launched enforcement action to switch it off.

The refusal and the enforcement notice were taken to appeal by O2, and a planning inspector ruled in the phone firm's favour.

Mr Pennington then launched legal action in his son's name, claiming the inspector had not taken into account the evidence of ill health that he said had been caused by the mast.

He also said O2 had not produced sufficient evidence that it had looked for alternative sites for the mast.

Court procedure meant the case was officially brought against O2, the ODPM and district council. But, having turned down the application, North Norfolk did not contest it.

And the ODPM also decided not to pursue it, conceding that there had been a "breach of procedural fairness" towards the Penningtons.

On Friday, O2 wrote to say it was also "submitting to judgment" - legal jargon for conceding defeat.

Roger Howe, planning legal enforcement manager at North Norfolk, said: "This all means that the appeals will go back to the Secretary of State, who will appoint a different inspector.

"The mast was switched on when the inspector ruled in O2's favour. But we may take legal advice, because I think the stop notice now kicks in again.

"My view is that it becomes effective, and the mast should be switched off."

Copyright © 2006 Archant Regional. All rights reserved.

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