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Restore people’s and council’s right to turn down phone masts on health grounds.

Comment 25th July 2010

In August 2001 the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister under John Prescott issued planning guidance to Councils which included PPG8 -Telecommunications. Regarding the health aspect of masts, this guidance contained three paragraphs:
 

Health Considerations

29. Health considerations and public concern can in principle be material considerations in determining applications for planning permission and prior approval. Whether such matters are material in a particular case is ultimately a matter for the courts. It is for the decision-maker (usually the local planning authority) to determine what weight to attach to such considerations in any particular case.

30. However, it is the Governments firm view that the planning system is not the place for determining health safeguards. It remains central Governments responsibility to decide what measures are necessary to protect public health. In the Governments view, if a proposed mobile phone base station meets the ICNIRP guidelines for public exposure it should not be necessary for a local planning authority, in processing an application for planning permission or prior approval, to consider further the health aspects and concerns about them.

31. The Governments acceptance of the precautionary approach recommended by the Stewart Groups report "mobile phones and health"1 is limited to the specific recommendations in the Groups report and the Governments response to them. The report does not provide any basis for precautionary actions beyond those already proposed. In the Governments view, local planning authorities should not implement their own precautionary policies e.g. by way of imposing a ban or moratorium on new telecommunications development or insisting on minimum distances between new telecommunications development and existing development.
 

Paragraphs 29 and 30 practically contradict each other. This piece of Government advice has been the subject of two court battles:

The first, on the 26th of September 2003 -Yasmin Skelt -v- The First Secretary of State and Three Bridges District Council and Orange PCS Limited: The First Secretary of State conceded the case which allowed a mast to be removed from Grove Way, Chorleywood on the basis that being within the ICNIRP guidelines did not stop the council from considering other scientific evidence with regard to the possible future health effects on the population close to the mast.

Then in November 2004 – T-Mobile UK Ltd v First Secretary of State: The First Secretary of State also lost the case, however this time the solicitors for The First Secretary of State were in The Court of Appeal fighting against a mobile phone operator. The ruling, which dismissed the appeal, effectively said that other than in exceptional circumstances, the council must accept being within ICNIRP guidelines as being safe, and cannot consider any further health evidence when deciding whether or not to give planning approval to a base station (mast). Observers have said that the case made by The First Secretary of State was very weak and did not offer any evidence that showed the limitations of the ICNIRP guidelines. "It was if they wanted to lose the case". The First Secretary of State declined to the appeal the decision. And as the previous case was settled before judgement, this became the case that is now cited in similar situations.
 

There is much evidence that the ICNIRP guidelines are not adequate for determining the health risk of mobile phones, masts or other wireless technology. The ICNIRP guidelines only take into account the heating effects of the radiation while many new studies show that health effects are caused through non thermal mechanisms, at levels far lower than the ICNIRP guidelines (See the Bioinitiative report, Reflex report and others). There are epidemiological studies that show that health problems increase proportionally the closer people (and animals) live to a mast. This would not be the case if the ICNIRP guidelines were ‘safe’.

Given that such evidence exists, it is farcical that the law can say that the ICNIRP guidelines = safe. It is like having a law that states “Bristol is on the moon”. Sadly it is not only farcical, it is also harmful to those people, such as my own family, who are adversely affected by this.

Why does this matter?

 

It gives people back the right to make decisions about their own health and the health of their families. While some like to say that phone masts don't cause health problems, the huge body of scientific evidence that shows not only that they can but, through several epidemiological studies, that they do cause harm to those living near them. Even if such harm was not proven, any existing doubt means that the rollout of such a network must be postponed until further research can prove it safe. Quashing people’s rights to object to masts going up next to their homes, schools and hospitals is irresponsible and wrong.

The previous Labour Government has admitted that the £22.5 billion received from the mobile phone industry has influenced the laws they made in this regard. Any such laws should be reviewed immediately unless a pay-for-legislation is this Government’s idea of good Government.

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