Outrage at phone mast secrecy bid

20 September 2006 11:47

Mobile phone mast campaigners today reacted with horror after it emerged vital information about the whereabouts of masts could be made secret.

Until now families have been able to find details about where masts are, who owns them and how powerful they are, thanks to a website called SiteFinder.

Run by telecommunications regulator Ofcom, the site was set up after the independent report by Sir William Stewart, who was probing whether there was a link between mobile phone masts and diseases such as cancers.

Although he found no link he called for a precautionary approach to siting masts near schools and homes while further research is carried out and the website became an essential source for people worried about masts near their homes.

But a ruling by privacy watchdog the Information Commissioner has placed the website's future in doubt - to the despair of people fighting for the truth about masts.

The Evening News, through our Put Masts on Hold campaign, has opposed the installation of mobile phone masts near homes and schools until it is proved they are safe.

Dr Ian Gibson, Norwich North MP and long-time supporter of our campaign, said he would be “violently opposed” to the collapse of the site.

“It's the only way we can get information about what they are up to,” he said. “I will be meeting the minister to have talks to try to prevent it.”

After an 18-month investigation the Information Commissioner last week ruled in favour of a request that all information used to compile the site be made available.

Currently the data is used by Ofcom to compile the website and let people know who owns masts within about 500 yards of their front door. Wider searches do not show who owns the masts.

The mobile phone companies fear if all information is made available it will allow competitors the chance to find “holes” in networks, giving them a competitive advantage, or allowing rivals to pitch for business in certain areas where they might get better coverage with another network.

The information is provided voluntarily by the five UK mobile networks, Airwave, and Network Rail, but the firms might now pull out of giving information - which would scupper the site.

“We're concerned by the decision as we believe it may have the effect of removing a source of important information from the public domain,” said an Ofcom spokesman. Ofcom has until October 9 to appeal.

Graham Barker, from Lloyd Road, Taverham, who has campaigned against a controversial Vodafone mast in Fakenham Road, said the facility needed to be kept available to families.

“It would be a shame if it's closed down,” he said. “The more information that is available the better in my opinion, anything that changes that is a retrograde step. Despite what the experts say the long term effects aren't really known.”

Jim Leathers, 73, who lives with his wife Eileen, 77, in the shadow of a mobile phone mast at Thurton near Loddon, said he would be worried if the site collapsed.

“It would be the wrong thing altogether and I don't agree with it,” he said. “I think it should be open knowledge where they are - when people move house or something like that they can check where there's a phone mast. That's useful information.”

In January last year the Evening News used the site to reveal how thousands of children were being taught within about 200 metres of a mobile phone mast.

Our survey found about 20pc of the Norwich area's 76 primary schools had phone masts or antennae within or close to that 200 metre range which experts had claimed could put youngsters at risk.

Are you fighting a mobile phone mast application in your area? Call Evening News reporter Peter Walsh on (01603) 772439 or email peter.walsh@archant.co.uk

Copyright © 2006 Archant Regional. All rights reserved.



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