Villagers’ fury at phone mast plan

Published on 01/06/2007

A SERIES of 100-foot high telecommunication masts are to spring up along the Tyne Valley railway line.

For Network Rail has exploited a loophole in the planning regulations which means the masts – twice the height of normal mobile phone masts – do not need planning consent.

Mobile phone mast applications usually attract considerable opposition, due to public fears about radiation.

Feelings are running particularly high in Bardon Mill, where one of the five masts in the district will be sited.

The village was subjected to a purge by Tynedale Council last year, when local businesses were ordered to remove advertising signs from the A69 trunk roads because they were unsightly.

Since then, business in Bardon Mill has nosedived spectacularly as traffic sweeps by unaware of the village’s attractions.

However, angry residents have pointed out that the new mast will be twice the height of local landmark, the Errington Reay Pottery chimney, and will be a real blot on the landscape.

“How can there be one rule for local people, and another for the railway?” asked one villager.

Another Bardon Mill resident Stephen Gibbon said: “Network Rail appears to have disregarded the findings of the Stuart Report into mobile phone masts, which says they should not be erected near domestic properties.

“This one will be only 34 metres away from the nearest house.”

The masts will be spaced every four or five miles along the line, which is one of the oldest in the world.

Householders along the length of the line are finding that work has already started on laying the groundwork for the towers.

Robert Allcock, from Riding Mill, said work was well under way on a mast right outside his house at Low Shilford.

He said: “The Network Rail website says it takes care to site these masts away from houses, and that it consults with residents within 100m of masts.

“The project manager covering the work here told me today that in fact what the company does is write to us after it has built all the foundations and is ready to assemble the actual mast, just to notify us that it is finishing the job.”

Mr Allcock has already contacted Hexham’s MP Peter Atkinson, and Tynedale Council’s director of planning Helen Winter to express concern about the development.

Helen Winter, director of planning at Tynedale Council, said: “In response to the serious concerns raised by residents we have spoken to Network Rail, who have consequently agreed put all work on hold and to undertake a full review of all five mast sites in Tynedale. We will be keeping in close contact with Network Rail as they review the sites.

“Although they informed us of their proposals in October 2006 as far as the council is concerned the responsibility for consultation with the community lies firmly with Network Rail themselves. It is important that concerns are raised directly with Network Rail via their National helpline on 08457 114141.”

The Tyne Valley line towers are part of a national network of more than 2,000 masts going up across the entire rail system.

A Network Rail spokesman said: “We are sorry that people have concerns about the introduction of these masts.

“They are an essential part of a new national safety system which will provide the UK's first nationwide train driver-to-signaller communication network.

“It fulfils a key recommendation from Lord Cullen's report into the Ladbroke Grove rail accident and will provide a safer railway for passengers.

“The masts will only be used for railway purposes, are not mobile phone masts and will be well within UK safety and international emissions guidelines.

“If we have to site a mast within 100m of residential buildings we write to residents before starting work to inform them.”

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