Council takes mast cash

The mast array on top of Bucklemaker Court multi in Dundee’s Hilltown.

Dundee City Council is taking rent on land it leases for mobile-phone mast sites, at the same time as councillors are voting against the erection of masts in the city (writes Brian Smith).

A spokesperson for the council has confirmed the council charges rent, but declined to reveal how much income the sites generate, on the grounds of commercial confidentiality.

The information emerged in the wake of questions posed by the Evening Telegraph, following the most recent reversal of a decision to refuse planning permission for a mobile phone mast in Gillies Park in Barnhill.

After a large-scale public campaign opposing the Gillies Park mast, councillors on the development quality committee voted unanimously to refuse planning permission.

That decision was subsequently overturned by an official from the Executive planning inquiry unit following an appeal by the telecoms operator Vodaphone.

The Tele asked if, as owners of the park, the council could say it simply would not allow the mast to be built on its land? Had they done this at any other site they own? Do they own sites where masts are located and, if so, do they charge rents?

Leisure and arts services convener Charles Farquhar was asked if the city council had ever said no to a mast in one of their parks. He said, “To my knowledge, we have never got to that stage yet.”

The council has several options if it chooses to continue to resist an application for a mast after losing the first appeal. All are likely to be lengthy, complex and expensive. And in the case of a further appeal under planning legislation, the advice from officials has been not to go ahead because of the expense and there being little prospect of success.

Refusal to allow construction on the basis that it is the landowner is possible if the leisure and arts services committee voted to do so, but that decision could take the council to court in an even greyer legal area.

The main mobile phone operators do have powers under the Tele- communications Act 1984, as amended, to, amongst other things, install equipment in the street and to apply to the courts for an order to place equipment on another’s property where they have been unable to obtain agreement to so do.

There are various caveats, procedures and conditions associated with these, and the other powers, in the Act. These powers do not override the need to obtain planning permission.

Perth and Kinross Council said they have only one phone mast from which money is accrued. A spokesman said, “This is located at the Canal Street car park in Perth. The council receives a rent of £7000 per annum from Orange for the mast.”

Ken Duncan, management services team leader with Fife Council, said, “The Council does not have any telecoms masts on council buildings or within schools or on residential properties.

“We lease sites for operators to build masts on and we have operators on some council-owned masts. At present, there are five leases for sites and two mast-sharing agree- ments. This produces an annual rental income to the council of £55,000.”

© All copyright D C Thomson & Co Ltd., 2007


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