Mast blunder 'could not happen again'

COUNCIL chiefs today assured residents that changes had been made to their procedures to prevent a repeat of a blunder over a mobile phone mast.The Ombudsman has found Suffolk Coastal guilty of maladministration causing injustice following complaints from six families.

COUNCIL chiefs today assured residents that changes had been made to their procedures to prevent a repeat of a blunder over a mobile phone mast.

The Ombudsman has found Suffolk Coastal guilty of maladministration causing injustice following complaints from six families.

He recommended the council pay £250 compensation to each household, and improves its procedures for dealing with similar mast applications in the future.

Suffolk Coastal refused the scheme for the 31ft mast in Coronation Drive, Felixstowe – but made the decision just one day too late after getting in a muddle with the timescale for handling the application.

Because the decision was not made within 56 days, it meant Hutchison 3G was granted "deemed permission" and could put up the aerial, even though neither council nor residents wanted it.

Andy Smith, deputy council leader and cabinet member for planning, said: "This case was prompted by an important difference of opinion on the time limit for reaching a decision on a proposed telecommunications mast between our planners and the applicants.

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"I believe it was an understandable mistake, but once it became clear we immediately took steps to avoid any repeat occurring."

Suffolk Coastal received the plans for the mast on August 8, 2002, and asked for further information from the applicants which it received on August 19.

It treated this date as the formal start of the 56 day period. But after a decision was made on October 3, it became clear that the 56 days had passed because the countdown should have started the day the application was delivered.

"The Ombudsman has agreed with the applicant that the day an application is received actually counts as the first of the 56 day period," said Mr Smith.

"There was an error on our part, although I feel it was an understandable one. However, we have learnt the lessons and this will not happen again.

"Residents and the members of the sub-committee clearly strongly felt that this mast should not be erected, and that strength of local opinion has perhaps influenced the fact that two years later the mast has still not been erected.

"I think the report from the Ombudsman is a fair reflection of the issues that led up to this situation.

"The findings will now be presented to a meeting of our full council on December 16 when it will be formally decided whether or not to agree the recommendations."

Residents campaigned against the mast because of worries about health risks and thousands of pounds being knocked off their homes' values.

They held a series of protests and prevented the telecommunications company from putting up the mast by blocking the land with a JCB and other vehicles – which are still there today stopping the work being done.

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