Council to take mobile phone firms to court

West Lothian council has failed to persuade Orange and Vodafone to remove six base stations from its land, even though the contracts have expired

West Lothian council is calling on other Scottish councils to support it in a legal fight to get six mobile phone masts removed from its land.

The council voted, last year, to ban the erection of any new base stations on its property, and to try to remove existing equipment, where possible. The contracts on these six masts -- four of which belong to Orange and two to Vodafone -- have either expired or are about to, but the mobile operators are refusing to take them down.

Discussions between the council and the mobile operators have now broken down, and a legal fight seems inevitable. "The West Lothian Enterprise and Development committee has approved a report that recommends that we speak to other councils to try to raise money to fund a test case to try and get these masts removed," a council spokesman explained.

He added that the council was acting in accordance with the views of the West Lothian population. "There is a local perception that there is a health risk associated with these masts." West Lothian council earns around £20,000 a year in rent from mobile network operators who currently have masts on its land.

West Lothian council will also be seeking support from COSLA, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. COSLA recently told the Scottish Parliament that the controls over mobile phone mast sites are generally agreed to be inadequate. As a voluntary organisation, however, it cannot get too involved in a lawsuit against the mobile operators. "It's possible that we could support legal action, but we can't directly take part in it because we don't own any land and therefore are not involved in contracts for mobile phone masts," a spokeswoman explained.

The government announced in March that it was changing the rules regarding the placement of new mobile phone masts. However, these changes were described as inadequate by some campaigners, including Liberal Democrat MP for Harrogate Phil Willis.

Similar legal action is currently being brought by Stockport Council. The Greater Manchester authority failed to persuade Orange to remove a mast located at Cheadle Hulme College. Although its contract ran out in November 2000, Orange is refusing to take the transmitter down and the dispute will come to court this coming November. Orange did agree to take down a mast from another school in Stockport, after finding a suitable alternative in the borough.

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