Masts cause unholy row

RESIDENTS are opposing plans to have hi-tech phone masts installed inside a church steeple as they fear they could be used to download porn.

Around 150 people lined the streets outside St James' Church, Kidbrooke Park Road, Greenwich, on Sunday brandishing banners and condemning religious leaders who would be "willing landlords" to the two masts.

The demonstration saw residents hand over a petition containing 250 signatures to the rector, the Reverend Kim Hitch, following his morning service.

Hutchinson 3G and Vodafone are expected to submit an application to Greenwich Council in the next few days for permission to install the masts, which could net the church up to £17,000 a year in rent.

But residents say the plans "stink" of hypocrisy because the masts are "third generation", which enables phone users to download videos from the internet.

Devout Catholic Steve Kelleher, who lives next door to the Anglican church, said: "If you can watch football on phones with 3G technology, then you can also watch porn and do online gambling.

"So why is the church, the house of God, willing to facilitate such a form of communication?"

The married father-of-five added: "I am very uncomfortable about how the church is supporting technology which can be used to download less salubrious things, shall we say."

Residents are also concerned about radiation being emitted from the high-frequency masts.

Legally, planners cannot turn down an application on health grounds as there is currently no conclusive evidence to suggest radiation from phone masts is a danger to people.

Resident Dean Beer has children whose bedrooms are 50m away from where the masts would be situated.

He says the church should put the community's health first, not the lure of a lucrative rent deal.

Mr Beer said: "The proposed 3G mast is technology aimed at a youth market which is more likely to access pornography and gambling.

"It totally disgusts us this could be going on under our church roof."

The protest on Sunday occurred seven months after residents first heard of the plans.

On September 18 last year, the St James' Church parochial council threw out the plans following widespread opposition.

But after consultations with the phone companies and an independent health adviser, Mr Hitch says he was persuaded it was safe to have the base stations installed and the church would be a "willing landlord".

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Mr Hitch said: "The rent would certainly be useful, although it is not the be-all-and-end-all.

"It is a matter for the planning authority to decide.

"However, if it approves them then we would be willing landlords for the masts."

He dismissed calls from residents about the masts helping to facilitate the downloading of porn in God's house.

Mr Hitch said: "Any form of communication technology can be used for good or for ill."

10:54am Wednesday 22nd March 2006

By Chris Johnson

© Copyright 2001-2006 Newsquest Media Group

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