Orange heads to court over mobile masts

It's 'see you in court', as council's legal team readies for fight to rid two Manchester schools of mobile masts

Mobile network operator Orange announced Friday it would fight a court case that could force it to remove mobile phone masts from two Stockport schools.

The legal action is being brought by Stockport Council, which insists that parents, school governors and local residents want the masts removed because of concerns over health effects. Orange has refused, despite the fact that its contract ran out in November 2000, and insists the equipment is vital for maintaining service levels.

This is thought to be the first court action of its type in the UK. No date has been set for the hearing.

Mark Hunter, Liberal Democrat chairman of Stockport's education committee, is leading the attempts to remove the masts. "From the number of phone calls and letters we've received, the council knows that parents, local residents and school governors are concerned about possible effects from mobile masts. We have a duty of care to children, and after months of trying to get Orange to remove these masts we've been reluctantly forced into legal action," he explained.

A spokesman for Orange explained that the company intended to fight the legal action. "Stockport Council has announced that they intend to issue an enforcement notice, which we haven't received yet. We plan to issue a counter-suit, and then the matter will be dealt with by the county court."

The spokesman admitted that mobile mast safety was a sensitive issue. "We acknowledge there is public concern about the siting of transmitters, especially at schools. However, we insist no link has been found between mobile masts and effects on health", he said.

According to Hunter, this attitude isn't good enough. "I think it's unacceptable that they are ignoring the wishes of local people. We in Stockport aren't prepared to be pushed around by mobile phone giants."

Hunter also doesn't think that the fact there is no proof that mobile masts are harmful is a good enough reason for installing the apparatus at a school. "We're taken this action because we have a duty of care to local children, who have no choice about whether they go to school. It's not the same as choosing to use a mobile phone," he insisted.

Stockport Council was the first authority in the UK to ban the erection of mobile phone masts on school property in the spring of 2000. The two Orange masts at Cheadle Hulme College and Marple Hall High School were installed before this ban, but when their contracts ran out last year the council informed Orange that the masts must go.

According to Hunter, Stockport County is considering a ban on mobile masts on all council land -- a move made by Kent County Council earlier this month.

The Stewart Enquiry, commissioned by the government into the health concerns over mobile phones, recommended that the emission levels of all mobile masts were audited, particularly those sited in or near schools. This audit is currently underway.

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