Phone mast warning as schools break up

By Lynn Jackson

MAST BE VIGILANT: Campaigners say phone operators often put in plans for masts as the school year ends

BE on the alert during the school holidays. That's the warning from a pressure group which fears applications for mobile phone masts near schools will be hurried through during the summer break.

Campaigners from the Wessex Registry of Masts (WRAM) say it's "amazing" how often operators put in plans just as the school year ends.

That makes it hard for school staff to let parents know about impending bids, they say, and organise any opposition.

The warning comes after a mass protest by parents at two Bournemouth schools prompted borough councillors to reject plans for an O2 mast on nearby land.

Head teachers at Stourfield Infants and Stourfield Junior Schools led the opposition to the mast on Warnford Road in Iford, which sparked scores of letters of objections, as well as more than 500 signatures on a petition.

Now WRAM campaigners say all schools should ensure their local planners keep them informed about any new applications.

WRAM spokesman Karen Barratt said: "It is amazing how many times telecom operators put in applications for masts just as the schools break up.

"The strict timetable imposed on councils means there is no possibility of deferring decisions until a time when parents can be contacted, so any opposition is effectively stifled."

Under the industry code of practice, companies should contact schools before they make a phone mast application, but Mrs Barratt says this doesn't always happen.

"The problem is that there is no specified safe distance for phone masts," she said.

"The telecoms either don't contact schools at all or restrict it to those within 200 metres."

But a spokeswoman for the Mobile Operators Association said both planners and operators used the industry code of best practice in deciding whether to consult local schools, as each development was different.

She said: "The consultation with local schools by operators is carried out in advance of a planning application being made.

"This gives extra time for the local community to get information or ask questions about the development."

She added: "When a planning application has been made, the planning authority is required by planning law to carry out local consultation."

Best practice advice from the government is that all planning decisions should be made within eight weeks, she said.

11:42am today

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