Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Phone masts and planning

One of the perennial problems we face as elected councillors is the issue of mobile phone masts. Most people do not want these near their homes, or shops or schools. I have been involved in several campaigns to prevent masts - some of which have been successful campaigns, others not. But what's not often understood is that phone mast applications don't have to go through the same strict planning processes as others. And its true to say that the law is very much on the side of the phone company when it comes to these applications.

Residents are often amazed that the normal planning rules don't apply for masts. And it's clear to me that they should.

There's a planning bill going through Parliament at the moment. Most of the coverage has been about provisions around large projects - airports, roads etc. But there was a chance to change the law on masts. Andrew Stunnell, one of the Lib Dem MPs in the North West, wrote an amendment to get phone masts brought within normal planning laws. You would think that everyone would support that. Well the Conservatives abstained, and Labour opposed him. So next time a Tory or Labour politician attempts to oppose a phone mast, I suggest we ask them why, when they had the chance, they didn't do something to be on the side of residents.


Ryan said...

It's such a shame to see another LibDem in the all phone masts are evil section of society.

PM Swimmer said...

Paula whilst I agree that Masts should come within the bounds of normal planning laws we need to appreciate that these masts are necessary if we want to have mobile phone coverage.

Assuming that we want mobile coverage then the council needs to be a lot more grown up in its attitude to the masts. Blanket rulings banning masts from Council property for instance are not helpful especially in a city with high council ownership of property. And lets not forget that mobiles make communication easier for the poorest in society freeing them from the need to pay line rental, or undergo credit checks etc.

One also needs to base decisions on the science not on populist scare stories, which are ever so ideal for politicians desperate to appear to be doing something.
The science indicates that there is no significant risk and in any case we would be better protected with more masts rather than less as proximity to the transmitter reduces the amount of power required for both the phone and the mast to get signals to each other. Therefore we should be looking at a network of micro masts rather than fewer larger masts.

I appreciate your willingness to stand up for residents but you have fallen in to exactly the trap you accuse Labour of with regard to the budget, you’ve rubbished one proposal but not come forward with a solution of your own. This might be acceptable if you were willing to link your holding of office directly to my ability to get mobile signal.

Sorry I’m trying not to be negative but I want politicians, especially in Liverpool which so sorely needs it, to tell me the changes they will make to solve problems, to improve quality of life, to make the city somewhere amazing to live and visit.
Most of all I want politicians who can inspire me and make me want to contribute, who have to stand up in front of crowds and convince them of their commitment, vision and ability and the endless he said she said lib, lab finger pointing isn’t doing that for anyone.

Paula Keaveney said...

Ryan. I am not against all phone masts. Those where there is no apparent problem I do not comment on. It is where there is a problem - often related to road safety or fears of health issues by local residents - where I have been involved. (In fact there is an application for a mast in my ward right now which I am not commenting on because I can see no problem and neither can any residents). The issue here however is that I see no reason why masts should be treated any differently to other structures when it comes to planning law. It is mad for example that there is a protracted planning argument about a particular piece of public art in Liverpool city Centre (which actually looks a bit like a mast) and yet a mast itself in this site would have no where near the level of democratic scrutiny.

Paula Keaveney said...

Hello PM Swimmer. The City Council more than a year ago agreed a scheme for tiny little devices on roofs in strategic places to enable mobile phone transmission. This went through Exec Board and was publicised in the local media. Obviously as phone use changes there will be developments in the need for, or perceived need for masts. On health grounds the jury is still out and will be for years to come. But the issue on masts is also often things like road safety, visual amenity etc and local residents should have exactly the same planning law rights on masts as they would on, for example, a piece of public art or another structure. The problem at the moment is that the phone companies know that the law is on their side and they exploit this to the full. It's one thing having a proper say and losing the argument. It;s another not even having the chance to make the case.

PM Swimmer said...

I'm glad to here the council has moved some way in their stance on mobile phone masts.
That said I continually worry about' the jury is out' in the scientific evidence arguement.

No study has been able to identify a risk, none. That includes one where rats lived their entire lives in a room with a transmitter much bigger than we're talking about here, no significantly higher risk of cancer was seen, (have admit I'm going from memory here). Yet continually opponents or those that could be descibed as 'do-gooders' focus on a tiny number of studies not completed or take quotes from scientists out of context or refer to people as experts who were nothing of the sort.

By simply saying the Jurys out, not quantifying that in anyway not prefacing it with an allusion to the amount or quality of science thats been done thats found no risk you're no different to those that try and convince us that there are significant scientific concerns or flaws with, climate change, MMR vaccines and evolution.
In some ways this refers back to the conversation on whether there should be minimum standards of training for those in elected office, certainly science is at its most butchered when quoted by politicians of all flavours.

This also leads to massive flaw in UK media broadcasting thats more your area of expertise, our news outlets strive for fairness and good on them, but it fails spectacularly when it comes to science for example when they do a piece of climate change they will have a 'talking head' for and one against giving the impression that there is some kind of scientific conflict to be discussed and actually missleading the viewers. In reality they should have 20 'talking heads' for and one against who would be allowed to occasionally make a point before everyone in the studio laughed at them.
Surely as a media specialist you've noticed this and are aware of the dangers in fostering the notion of some kind of equivalancy in scientific arguements like Climate change or phone masts where there is none.

Paula Keaveney said...

I have to agree on the climate change coverage. The other really annoying one, when I worked at Save the Children, was coverage of the link between HIV and Aids. There was, from memory, one scientist denying this and one journalist on the Sunday Times. Yet this was repeated over and over again because it became a bit of a cause celebre for the paper.