Schools net mast profits

Schools are still making thousands of pounds from mobile phone masts on their premises seven years after Oxfordshire County Council banned the practice.

Figures obtained by the Oxford Mail under the Freedom of Information Act revealed five secondary schools which signed contracts before the ban was introduced are making almost £35,000 a year in total from seven mobile masts.

They are Matthew Arnold School in Oxford, Oxford Community School, Larkmead School in Abingdon, Burford School and Banbury School.

The county council banned new masts being built on its sites within 200m of a school in 1999, but there is nothing to stop schools renewing contracts.

It has refused to discuss the issue with the Oxford Mail but in a statement said it would consult schools before deciding whether the contracts should be renewed.

Matthew Arnold School, Oxford, has three mobile masts, boosting its budget by £15,000 a year. The others have one mast each worth between £2,273 and £6,428 a year.

Governors at Matthew Arnold will decide whether to renew one of its contracts in December this year. The other two are due to expire in July and October 2008.

School business manager Ian Carr said: "The radiation levels from the three masts here are well below recommended levels so that has put a lot of fears to rest among parents.

"No new masts can be built within 200m of school premises but that doesn't prevent individuals whose garden backs on to a school from putting one up."

Burford School headteacher Patrick Sanders said he planned to renew the school's 10-year contract with O2, worth £4,000 a year.

He said: "There's no reason why we shouldn't renew it. It's far enough away from the school on an old farm site several hundred metres away and it's not particularly big. Nobody will know for many years to come about the safety of them."

Oxford Community School renewed its mast contract in 2001 and is now signed up until 2016. Projects director Pat Norman said the revenue from its mast had been invested in new toilets.

She said: "It's preferable to have the mast on our own buildings because we know how much is coming out of it and where it's distributed."

Larkmead School head Christopher Harris said: "The contract was entered into before I joined the school. We will review the situation when the contract comes up for renewal."

Scientific opinion on the safety of masts near schools is divided.

Dr Gerard Hyland, of the department of physics at the University of Warwick, has claimed the frequency of pulses in transmitter emissions could affect the brains of young children so masts should not be sited near schools.

But former Oxford scientist Prof Colin Blakemore, a member of the Government's Stewart Committee which looked into the effects of mobiles, has argued that schools are the best places to put masts because exposure directly beneath them is the lowest.

Green county councillor Craig Simmons believes that masts should not be installed on schools until there is evidence to prove it is safe to do so.

He said: "My view is that we need to take a precautionary approach and not put masts on highly-populated areas or close to schools."

The Oxford Mail was initially told no-one at the council was available to comment. After offering to wait, the council admitted it was not prepared to discuss the issue, saying: "We don't always put people up for interview".

In a statement, health and safety officer Colin Shipton said: "It is correct that OCC banned installing any new mobile telephone masts on school premises and restricted installation on any of its sites within 200 metres of school premises.

"The 200 metres was not based on any scientific evidence nor guidance from our radiological expert and is not enforceable for non-OCC premises.

"The levels of exposure were checked and it was revealed that they were well below those recommended by Government and the National Radiological Protection Board."

Omega read "Base Stations, operating within strict national and international Guidelines, do not present a Health Risk?" under: //omega.twoday.net/stories/771911/

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