Battle to turn off mast is revived

STEVE DOWNES

17 March 2006 06:15

A showdown was on the cards last night as councillors launched a bid to force a communications giant to switch off a controversial mast on a police station.

O2 will be told to turn off the equipment at North Walsham after backing down from a High Court battle with a father-and-son who claim it is making people ill.

But members and officers from North Norfolk District Council are likely to get short shrift from the operator, which said last night it would not pull the plug.

Ann Casson, a spokeswoman for the company, said: "We have a valid planning consent for the mast, which is providing a vital service for the community and the police in the area."

The mast provides a signal for a crucial part of Norfolk Police's state-of-the-art Airwave digital radio system across the county.

But it has been at the centre of a bitter battle since it was put up and switched on without planning permission three years ago.

The council eventually received a planning application, which it rejected.

It then launched enforcement action and issued a "stop" notice, which forced O2 to switch off the mast and find an alternative site on the edge of the town.

But the decisions were overturned by a planning inspector appointed by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott - leaving the mast operating again, to the fury of nearby residents who reported a number of symptoms they claimed were caused by emissions.

Matthew Pennington and his four-year-old son Henry, whose home is 100yds from the mast, challenged the inspector's decision on the basis that she had not taken into account the evidence of ill health that he said had been caused by the mast.

Mr Pennington also said O2 had not produced sufficient evidence that it had looked for alternative sites in North Walsham for the mast.

Yesterday, councillors at the joint development control committee heard confirmation that O2 and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) had pulled out of the High Court battle on April 3 and 4 with the father and son.

The move, which is expected to be confirmed by a judge in the next fortnight, means a different inspector at a new appeal will decide the outcome of the saga.

Councillors were told by planning legal enforcement manager Roger Howe that he believed the "stop" notice was now reactivated.

Members gave him permission to write to O2, requesting that the mast be switched off.

Pat Ford, a North Walsham councillor, said: "I certainly want the stop notice served. It will serve the residents and particularly the children of the town."

Candy Sheridan said: "So far we've done everything in our power to stop this. We must do it again."

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