Mast 'betrayal' angers group

By Linda Piper

Gary Cripps from mast pressure group Orange Squash BE3798

ANGRY parents and residents are trying to mount a legal challenge against Bexley Council's decision to allow a phone mast next to a school.

Bedonwell Junior School, Bedonwell Road, Belvedere, has been fighting for 10 years to remove an Orange phone mast.

Now, within months of getting rid of it, Bexley has given planning permission to T-Mobile to site another structure on the school's perimeter wall, less than 100m away from the previous mast.

The decision was made on the casting vote of the planning control committee chairman Councillor June Slaughter on March 29, after the vote was tied six-six.

Pressure group Orange Squash, which was at the meeting, claims Cllr Mrs Slaughter was not impartial and influenced the vote in favour of permission.

Gary Cripps from Orange Squash says the group has asked for a transcript of the meeting.

There is also concern about a "training" meeting for councillors, which residents and parents fear may have influenced councillors and changed council policy on dealing with proposals for masts near schools.

Bexley admits there were two training sessions for council officers and councillors on mobile phone masts on February 27, "to ensure they were kept up-to-date on the issues involved".

They were run by an independent telecommunications expert with no connections to any mobile phone operators.

Bexley says it has not changed its policy and every mast application is treated on its merits.

Mr Cripps, of Bedonwell Road, says Orange Squash plans a big new campaign against the mast and will alert other schools in the area.

He said: "Masts rejected near their schools will all now be fair game."

Mr Cripps says Bexley has allowed the 28ft mast, which will be disguised as a telegraph pole, on one of the borough's most cluttered corners.

He claims when residents asked Bexley for safety railings on the kerbside at the corner, on the junction of Bedonwell Road and King Harold's Way, they were told it was too cluttered.

The group has taken its concerns to the council's chief executive Nick Johnson and council leader Councillor Ian Clement, as well as writing to Cllr Mrs Slaughter.

Debbie Collins, one of the parents who led the fight against the Orange mast at the school, was so worried about potential risks, she withdrew her daughter, Rhiannon, from the school.

Mrs Collins has now protested to Cllr Clement, who supported the parents' fight at the time.

She said: "Of all the places, and knowing how contentious this issue is, what possible justification could there be for this decision?"

Mrs Collins has demanded Cllr Mrs Slaughter's resignation over the issue, saying "she has utterly betrayed the trust of the public."

She added: "I so angry, I am almost speechless.

"It is deliberately rubbing salt into the wound. I am absolutely horrified."

Headteacher Ivor Gordo attended the planning control meeting and begged councillors not to approve the T-Mobile mast.

He described how bad he felt when, within six months of signing a contract with Orange to allow a mast on the school site in return for a rent of £7,000 a year, public fears surfaced about the health risks, especially for young children.

Mr Gordo added: "When it was removed last year, I felt so relieved."

During the furore over the Orange mast, a number of parents took their children away from the school and more than 1,000 people signed a protest petition or wrote to the council.

There was also a march by 120 children and their parents along Bexleyheath Broadway to stage a demonstration outside the civic offices.

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