Mast workers barred from 'bat' church

Mark Branagan

When contractors arrived to put mobile phone mast equipment on top of a church where protesters believe bats are nesting, leading objector Audrey Booth sat down in front of the lorry and told them: "Thou shalt not."

Convinced the engineers had not got the proper paper-work from English Nature to begin work, she refused to budge from the driveway of the United Reformed Church in Chapel Hill, Clayton West, Huddersfield.

Her lone stand on Saturday morning soon attracted a turnout of neighbours and local councillors, concerned about the possible health impact of the equipment being mounted on the three-storey building's chimney. When it became clear Mrs Booth, 55, of Church Lane, was not going to make way for the engineers' vehicles after a 90-minute stand off – and that a TV crew was on the way – the men left.

Defending her actions yesterday, Mrs Booth said: "I spoke to English Nature, who said I should ensure that the law was not being broken if I thought the bat colony from the church was in danger and to check if they had got the necessary permissions to work near the roost.

"They started up the lorry and began to unload the aerials so I plonked myself down. I have been here 30 years and seen the bats every summer. They flit about in the garden and I enjoy seeing them."

She believed the colony was established in the church, but had been unable to find it. However, the Rev Nick Percival, whose ministry includes the church, said it was the first he had heard of any bats nesting there and Mrs Booth had been tres-passing on church property.

He added: "There used to be some bats in the church house where the minister lived but I have spoken to people who have been here all their lives and they do not know of any bats in the church."

A number of the objectors have claimed the church did not consult residents about installing the equipment.

But Mr Percival said the church held an open meeting last October to which the protesters came. He said the phone company had contacted Kirklees Council about planning consent but had been advised it was not needed because the masts fell within permitted development.

It was not unusual for churches to provide space for mobile phone equipment and any income would be spent improving access to the building for the community, he said.

But bats or no bats, Mrs Booth's protest underlined householders' fears about having the equipment close to family homes. Neighbour Robert Leach, who took part in the protest, said he did not want his 19-month-old son and pregnant wife living near the aerials and dishes.

He added: "No one wants it there apart from the church who will get money for it and the phone company who want to put up a mast, which will also be an eyesore."

Kirklees local councillor Jim Dodds said he would contact the authority today about some planning concerns raised by the residents. He said the situation regarding the possible bat protection issues also needed to be clarified via English Nature.

No one from the phone company, Hutchinson 3G, was available to comment.

mark.branagan@ypn.co.uk

07 August 2006

All rights reserved © 2006 Johnston Press Digital Publishing.

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