Mobile phone masts to face public consultation

Government announces long-awaited response to Stewart Report, and acknowledges public concerns over mobile mast erections

Local people will be given a greater say in the siting of all mobile phone masts, under changes to the planning system announced last Friday.

The changes -- to the planning rules which govern the erection of mobile phone masts -- are a response to last year's enquiry headed by Sir William Stewart, which examined the potential health risks of mobiles. Under the new rules, planning permission will now be needed for all masts -- not just those that are 15m or higher as at present.

The new rules will also mean that school governors much be consulted before a mast is built on or near a school -- following particular public concern about the proximity of mobile aerials to schools. Councils will also have to make a decision about all applications within 56 days.

Nick Raynsford, planning minister at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, said that while mobile phones were very beneficial, more attention should be paid to fears over health risks.

"People are concerned about where masts are located," said Raynsford. "It is vital that masts are designed and sited sensitively so that their environmental impact is kept to a minimum. Local people must have a better opportunity than now to have their say on proposals for mast development."

The Stewart Enquiry was set up by the government to address issues of public concern regarding mobile phones and mobile phone masts.

The report, published in May 2000, concluded that, while there was no evidence of any health effects, a precautionary approach was advisable. Among other recommendations, it called on the government to create a national database of masts and to check the radiation emissions from all masts -- especially those close to schools.

The government was criticised by Kent County Council for not responding faster to the Stewart Report. In January, Kent Council voted to ban mobile phone masts from its land, and cited the precautionary approach recommended in the Steward Report.

Speaking in January, deputy council leader Keith Ferrin criticised the mobile phone companies for not doing more to address public concerns. "Mobile phone companies are making this situation worse, because of a failure to talk to the public," Ferrin said. "Why not handle your PR in a sensible way rather than acting so that people think you have something to hide?" he asked.

How can you get access to information and entertainment from just about anywhere? Find out with ZDNet UK's Mobile Technology Special.

Rupert Goodwins is getting in a froth about the the very doyen of middle-class sensibilities, Radio 4's You and Yours programme transmitting a piece about radio and health. He asks "What is the risk?" We live in a country where you can buy cigarettes over the counter and drink yourself to a coma every night. He maintains the only danger you're in from your mobile phone comes from colonic rupture if it rings once too often, too loudly in a place filled with choleric Chelsea fans. Go to AnchorDesk for the news comment.

Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Click on the TalkBack button and go to the Telecoms forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom. And read other letters.