Nurse fights on over mast blunder

by Malcolm Prior BBC News, Eastleigh

When nurse Karen Royce found out a mobile phone mast was to go up close to her home, she was outraged.

Concerns over the health risks and the impact on property values were at the front of the mother-of-two's mind.

Yet she knew the mast's erection was far from a certainty - and her local council would have to listen to her and her neighbours' objections.

But the Hampshire villagers' efforts ended in failure, because the council made one simple administrative error.

Eastleigh Borough Council is among the dozens across the country that have fallen foul of a legal loophole that allows mobile phone operators to put up masts if they do not hear from a local authority within 56 days.

A Freedom of Information Act investigation by the BBC News website has revealed that councils in the BBC South region have made the simple mistake 68 times.

Missed deadlines: worst councils # Horsham - 14 times # Southampton - six times # Oxford - six times # Bracknell Forest - six times # Brighton - five times

Eastleigh Borough Council has made the mistake twice, once in 2001 and again last year, when Vodafone applied to put up a mast in the village of Allbrook.

Local residents immediately banded together to raise concerns over the siting of the mast with the council, raising a 100-signature petition.

"Because there had been so many objections the council said it would hold a meeting," said Mrs Royce, 42, of Allbrook Knoll.

"We were all ready to attend this meeting when we then got a letter saying the 56-day limit ran out before this meeting so it didn't even get held.

"We were really angry and felt very let down by them when we heard."

It's the stubbornness in me that keeps me going Karen Royce

The mistake allowed the company to assume it had consent and - despite negotiations to find a different site - the mast went up towards the end of the year.

The council says extra training has been given to councillors and staff since the mistake.

And two officers have been tasked specifically to deal with phone mast applications and a new numbering and coding system has been introduced.

A spokesman said: "The council apologised to residents for missing the statutory deadline.

"The proposal for this mast complied with the council's development plan policies, met national guidelines, including health guidelines for telecommunications masts, and the local area committee would have been recommended to give consent."

A spokeswoman for Vodafone said: "We have operated within the planning regulations."

But for Mrs Royce, the battle is not over - she now intends to take her fight to the European Court of Human Rights.

She said: "It's the stubbornness in me that keeps me going. I do not see why I should have to suffer health hazards and see my property devalued when I do not even use a mobile phone."

Story from BBC NEWS:
//news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/uk_news/england/4840670.stm

Published: 2006/03/28 05:00:43 GMT

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