Families' fury at mast mix-up
FURIOUS families say the reasons why a vital deadline for deciding a mobile phone mast was missed by one day just don't add up.They are not satisfied with an apology and assurances – and are to complain to the Ombudsman about the planners whose miscounting left them facing the prospect of a ten feet microwave-emitting aerial right outside their homes.
By RICHARD CORNWELL Felixstowe editor
FURIOUS families say the reasons why a vital deadline for a decision on a mobile phone mast was missed by just one day don't add up.
They are not satisfied with an apology and assurances – and are to complain to the Ombudsman about the planners whose miscounting left them facing the prospect of a ten feet microwave-emitting aerial right outside their homes.
Residents were delighted when Suffolk Coastal backed them and refused the application for the mast in Coronation Drive, Felixstowe.
But then the council admitted it had failed to decide the matter within the 56 days required by law – and so Hutchison 3G got permission by default.
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"It is beyond belief. We have listened to their excuses and apology and it is just not good enough," said town and district councillor Dot Paddick.
"The officers knew they had 56 days in which to decide this application, so why bring it to the committee on day 57?
"Why was it not brought to an earlier committee or a decision made by the officers? Democracy has been undermined and we would like the Ombudsman to investigate.
"Sorry is not good enough for the residents who will have to have this mast right outside their homes with microwaves coming through their children's bedroom windows or their school down the road.
"We don't know if there are health risks from the masts because very little research has been done and no-one will know for a long time to come. We know even less about this new third-generation mobile phone technology.
"But what happens later if a child has health problems caused by this mast? What will the planners who could not count say then – sorry?"
Mrs Paddick and campaigning residents have already held a protest at which they smashed a number of mobile phones, and she has written to the deputy prime minister John Prescott asking for a ban on siting masts in housing areas.
"We will carry on campaigning and will not give this up," she added.
Councillor Andy Smith, cabinet member for planning at Suffolk Coastal, said different planning rules applied to masts than for usual applications. Masts came under the "prior notification" rules and if a decision was not made in eight weeks, it was deemed to get permission.
Ordinary plans would be deemed to be refused if there was no decision – and the applicant could then appeal.
"It was an unfortunate event but rules are rules, and unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the applicant knew the rules precisely," said Mr Smith.
"I am sure the officers at Suffolk Coastal will be working to ensure that this situation does not happen again."
n What do you think – should putting mobile phone masts in housing areas be stopped? Write to Evening Star Letters, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk