Mast campaigners set up watchdog

Mobile phone mast campaigners in the South have formed a new watchdog group to monitor planning applications.

Members of the newly-formed Wessex Registry of Active Masts have vowed to keep an eye all new mast locations across Hampshire, Dorset and Surrey.

MPs, councillors and school governors have signed up to be kept informed.

Organiser Karen Barratt, who led a campaign against a mast in Winchester, said the group would be "a much stronger watchdog than any individual".

'Improved consultation'

"This is all about communication. We do not want to be kept in the dark about where current masts are sited or where future masts may be required," she said.

"We will not be telling anyone what they should do. If people want to raise objections to any specific site it is their choice but they are entitled to be properly informed and consulted."

The group holds a list of campaigners, politicians and community leaders to whom it will send out details of any new mast applications it is told of.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/06/12 05:31:05 GMT



WRAM: Wessex Registry of Active Masts

From Karen Barratt

Caroline St. Leger Davey (Winchester), Simon Preedy (Basingstoke) and I have set up a monitoring group to try and assess the mast situation in our general area (Hampshire and beyond). I attach a letter which explains the thinking behind the idea. So far we have seven Hampshire MPs who have asked to be on our contacts list. We intend to have email groups eg planning councillors, schools governors and residents so we can target information about masts in the area as we receive it. We will be sending the 'invitation' letter to MPs in adjacent counties at some point. We'll see how it goes. There will probably be something on BBC News Online (South) in the next day or two and BBC South / Radio Solent may cover this week.

From Karen Barratt - Winchester phone mast campaigner.

As some of you know I have been active in the high-profile Byron Avenue phone mast campaign for the last five years. I have been in regular contact throughout that time with other campaigners throughout the UK, including Simon Preedy in Basingstoke. Since 2004 my fellow Winchester campaigner Caroline St. Leger Davey and I have also been volunteers with the national campaign group Mast Sanity ( Mast Sanity gives advice on a range of issues relating to telecommunications applications and currently has around 2000 registrations from groups and individuals who have been helped. This service is most effective when people make contact early in the process ie before a formal planning application has been submitted. Too often people do not discover what is going on until time for objection has almost run out.

For this reason, I feel that there is a need to establish regional groups to exchange information and monitor the situation on mast siting in given areas. While the main problem lies with Government planning legislation there is also great inconsistency among local planning authorities in the way they handle applications and the extent to which they involve the public in the process. The enormous proliferation of mast protest groups has come about because communities are not given information or the opportunity to participate at an early stage and consequently end up feeling angry and disenfranchised.

Simon, Caroline and I are setting up a monitoring group Wessex Registry of Active Masts (WRAM) to provide a focus for information about the location of masts and the performance of local planning authorities. Initially, we want as many people as possible to be on our email list so that we can disseminate information to the wider community. The only commitment we want from 'supporters' is to let us know about mast activity in their local areas. A number of local MPs have welcomed the initiative and hope to be on the list.

This is all about communication. We do not want to be kept in the dark about where current masts are sited or where future masts may be required. We will not be telling anyone what they should do. If people want to raise objections to any specific site it is their choice but they are entitled to be properly informed and consulted. Operators have a Code of Practice (the so-called 'Ten Commitments') but weaker local planning authorities let them get away with murder. WRAM can be a much stronger watchdog than any individual can.

If you want to be on the contacts list - email Please include your name, address and tel no. If you know which planning authority covers your area, please tell us. If you prefer not to give personal info, then at least include your postcode so we have some idea which areas we're getting feedback from.


Why Wessex ?

There are many phone mast campaign groups in the southern region. We initially thought of making this group a Hampshire wide initiative but it seemed a pity to exclude campaigners just over the county border who we've been in touch with eg Farnham, Surrey and Bournemouth, Dorset. Wessex gives greater flexibility as a geographical definition.

Why be on the email list ?

We would like people to get in touch if they receive any communication from telecom operators or their local council about a proposed mast. We can then let everyone on the list know and they can forward the details to those who may be affected by the particular application. That way there is less chance of mast applications in 'your' area sneaking in without anyone knowing. The current Code of Practice if adhered to requires the operators to carry out pre-application consultation with interested individuals or establishments. You are in a better position to resist a mast if you have input at this stage. Remember, applications for masts under 15 metres, have to be decided in a 56-day time schedule. If they are not or the council fail to inform the operator of its decision in time, the operator can go ahead anyway.

Note: a BBC South investigation has recently discovered that in its television region alone 68 masts have the go-ahead because councils missed the deadline for notification. A recent attempt to introduce a Private Members Bill on telecommunications planning legislation included a recommendation that all masts should go through a full planning process. This would have removed the 56-day loophole. The Government blocked this bill.

Who are the operators?

There are five commercial operators. Four of them (Orange, Vodafone, T-Mobile, O2) already have 2G networks. They are now rolling out 3G. Hutchison 3G ('3') by definition only has a 3G network. In addition, Airwave O2 (a subsidiary of mmO2) is rolling out the TETRA system for the police and other emergency services and Netrail has its own GSM mast network. This adds up to eleven separate mast networks.

What is 3G ?

Third generation (3G) phones carry much more data than 2G (simply 'talk and text') and therefore require greater capacity. The option of one big mast sited away from populated area as an alternative to smaller masts in residential areas is no longer viable. If you want 3G phones you have to accept that many more masts much closer together are required.

How many masts are there now and how many more are to come?

We often hear that there are '45,000 existing masts.' In fact, this figure refers to mast sites. (Mike Dolan, Director of the Mobile Operators' Association has confirmed this) Any one site might accommodate all of the operators and dozens of antennae. Just look at the landscape (high rise buildings, water towers etc festooned with equipment.)

The only certain fact is that even if you are not threatened with a mast now you may well be in the near future !


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