Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2001
40. That is a bit of a combination. You did
not mention nuclear power, which is usually one factor that is
brought up. Do I understand you correctly? Are you saying that
because something cannot be proved to be 110 per cent safe you
do not want it?
(Ms Mathew) No. I understand that you cannot prove
something to be 100 per cent safe. I believe the situation is
worse than that. We do not even know whether it is slightly safe
or not. We are in an unknown area.
41. We have heard one of the most distinguished
scientists in the United Kingdom giving evidence this morning.
He was far more cautious about the lack of safety than you appear
to be. He speaks on the basis of considerable research. Is there
not a danger that you are taking a rather alarmist approach?
(Ms Mathew) I do not think so.
(Ms Mangat) There are other scientific opinions that
would contradict that. Those scientists are internationally renowned
people too. I do not think that we can make up our minds on the
basis of one opinion.
42. The opinion was representative of a committee
of a fairly stellar group of scientists whose reputations are
of a worldwide character. I do not want to play ping-pong with
you, but we are trying to establish a basis for the concerns that
organisations like yours reflect.
(Ms Mangat) But he did acknowledge that there is a
43. From the experience that you have had of
the operators, who are really the problem, Orange and One-to-One
seem to be rather low on people's affection ratings, if I can
put it that way. Is that a fair summation? Do you find that they
are perhaps less sensitive than other companies?
(Mr Meyer) Generally there have been a number of highlighted
cases where Orange masts have appeared in the middle of the night
without anybody knowing. Of course, that has caused concern. You
need to know that Mast Action UK is not totally destructive; it
is also constructive. We have been holding a series of discussions
with the industry with regard to the way forward that may provide
some way that would achieve the roll-out infrastructure that is
necessary, but without causing the anxiety and stress which, due
to the way things have been done on many occasions, has undoubtedly
been caused. The problem is that until recently, until before
the Stewart report, there were concerns, both here and abroad
that there may be some adverse health effects that could explain
headaches, nosebleeds, temporary memory loss, nausea and so on.
There was a lot of what the NRPB described as anecdotal evidence
from a wide range of people, but Sir William Stewart and his expert
group came to the conclusion that the well-being of people could
be impacted by other means. Certainly, until the Stewart report,
most of the concern was about the fact of the possible adverse
health effect on children, in particular. More recently, it has
become clear that not only is there the adverse health effect
possibilityI stress that it is no higher than a question
markbut there is also a belief by a lot of people that
the masts do not have to be placed within sensitive locations.
With proper consultation and taking other people's rights into
account, which previously did not exist in the English courts,
there is no need to find that, because of planning regulations,
a low mast appears outside your front door or maybe a high mast
outside your back door, and you then find that your property values
have disappeared out of the window overnight without any consultation.
I think that now many groups across the country are concerned
with regard to more than one issue. They are totally concerned
and anxious about possible health effects. I certainly think that
the Stewart report highlighted that stress was a factor on some
people's well-being. The further research that the Government
has announced by the Department of Health has, to some degree,
stressed that part of the Stewart report that said that there
was a need for robust research into the relevant issues. As a
lawyer, I find it extremely surprising, after all these years,
that there is no published research studies showing the effects
of long-term 24-hour a day exposure on people close to a mast.
We know that in Switzerland the Schwarzenberg study showed exactly
similar sorts of symptoms. When the situation was investigated,
by a flukeI stress that it was a flukeit was found
that most people in the study of 4,000 carried out by the University
of Berne showed, over a period of four or five days, that surprisingly
they felt better. About a year and a half later it was discovered
that the transmitter mastnot a mobile phone masthad
failed for those four or five days. Thereafter the cantonal government
of Berne closed down the mast immediately because of the effects
which then disappeared. Those effects were all totally similar
to the alleged possible effects from mobile phone masts when they
are erected. We do not know the answer. All we know is that the
European Union has said that where the science is incomplete and
inconclusive, where it is practical you should maintain the precautionary
approach. There must be a balancing exercise, of course, because
there is the need for the roll-out but there is also the need
to take into account people's anxieties and stress. There have
been two very recent planning inspectors' decisions that have
shown that one does have to do a balancing exercise.
44. Do you consider the planning system is adequate
to deal with the health issue?
(Mr Meyer) Recently there has been some confusion
in the planning field as a result of a letter written by the planning
Minister on 29 June, which was interpreted by most local planners
as meaning that you cannot consider adverse health issues further.
I took that up with the DETR and there is a clarifying letter,
saying that that is not what is meant. Recently there have been
many planning application cases in which the planning committee
have said, "We are not permitted to consider objections on
adverse health grounds". It is two planning inspectors' decisions
and they make it quite clear now that you need to do a balancing
exercise between perceived network need to infill or increase
capacity against, perhaps, potential local residents harm. These
are new. They are very different. Maybe they have some reflections
on the possible effect of Article 8 and the Human Rights Act and
the European convention which says that you have to show that
it is necessary if you are going to interfere with people's rights.
45. What you are really saying in effect is
that if public opinion had reached a conclusion, the planning
authority system will have to take health aspects into consideration,
given the fact that you can have a local authority, as it were,
a planning authority, going along with public opinion. Do you
not think that there will be a build up to this being a major
(Mr Meyer) I think that these decisions seem to show
a change. They are appeals which previously might well have been
granted but they were rejected and the reasoning in those decisions
is very interesting to read because it does take into account
in one of them, the Harrow case, what the courts have said, the
Court of Appeal, not just any old court, the Court of Appeal said
in 1997, in the Newport case and in the Tandridge case that genuine
public fear and concern, whether irrational and whether based
on evidence or not, is a material planning consideration which
a planning authority needs to weigh against lots of other planning
considerations. Clearly, the Government's view is a very fair
view but it still has to be weighed by the local planning authority
and locally as to what the situation is. I think if you understand
these planning applications for masts over 15 metres in height,
most of the applications say, "We investigated six or eight
other sites and this is our preferred one" and maybe they
will be told, "Maybe in due course, taking into account local
considerations, you will have to bat at number six as opposed
to number one in future".
46. Do you have a view about the Stanmore and
South Ockendon cases?
(Mr Meyer) The Stanmore case is in the London Borough
of Harrow and I think that the local planning authority came to
the right conclusion and the inspector upheld it.
47. How do you feel about an ombudsman? Professor
Stewart touched on that subject earlier this morning.
(Mr Meyer) It is always helpful these days to have
recourse to somebody outside because whatever anybody may think,
Mast Action UK is trying to be reasonable and to plot a path somewhere
down the middle where you can have proper masts and you can have
proper safety and lack of stress in people's homes. There is no
doubt that in other countries, the roll-out has been carried out
in different ways with many much higher masts, which might be
preferable in many situations. I think it was touched upon about
churches. Churches generally, subject to contours of the land,
are usually at a high point and maybe an antenna either on or
in a church steeple will go above most people's heads. Maybe that
is a better solution. But certainly Orange in Switzerland have
masts at between 25 and 40 metres in height in consultation with
the local communities there. I suspect that part of the problem
here has been GDPO which encourages masts at below 15 metres in
height which naturally will be outside people's bedroom windows
and children's classrooms and things like that. People fear what
it might mean after BSE. Certainly, there have been other fears.
I think, very pertinently, there have been for years and years,
as Sir William stated, denials that power lines could have any
impact whatsoever and that, I know has been going on for at least
35 years, and now they come out and say, "Well, maybe we
48. Have you read the report on power lines?
My understanding is that it is not quite as definitive as that?
(Mr Meyer) No, it says "possibly".
49. This is a sort of linking of all the things
that you do not like and coming up with a conclusion which has
no scientific approach?
(Mr Meyer) No, but this is what the public concerned
about. It may not be scientific but the scientific approach to
BSE turned out to be completely wrong and there is a concern that
maybe with mobile phones, if you have 24-hour exposure to a mast
outside your front door, maybe it does have a biological effect.
Nobody is suggesting for one moment that the thermal guidelines
are wrong. The suggestion is that maybe thermal is not the right
50. But do you have a view about an ombudsman?
(Mr Meyer) I am always in favour of ombudsmen. They
are a lost resort for somebody and is someone who is outside the
bias of all sides.
51. Do you oppose all masts on school buildings?
(Mr Meyer) No, sometimes it is better to have it on
top of a school building than in a field adjoining. But you cannot
oppose everything because there is no doubt that children go to
school with mobile phones. As Christopher Chope suggested earlier,
people's lives are saved by mobile phones. There are a lot of
pluses but there appear to be a few minuses which perhaps could
52. Perhaps you would like to come in on this?
(Ms Mathew) Our position has always been that we are
against the unnecessary and insensitive siting of these masts.
The majority of these cases that we represent, the mast has been
put on a school playing field close to classrooms or at the bottom
of somebody's garden when it could have gone 500 or 1,000 metres
along into open country. People see an alternative and do not
understand why that is not possible.
53. There is a real problem with this, is there
not, because you may have heard me ask Sir William, when he was
giving his evidence, if you have got densely populated areas,
where are there going to be sensitive sites as opposed to insensitive
sites and if you are not near open fields, how are you going to
find the right site? How will that come about, do you think?
(Ms Mathew) I think a possible way forward is to have
very tall masts on the top of tall buildings so you take it above
the population but not to have lamp-posts five metres from a child's
bedroom window. I think that there are alternatives.
54. Whose job is it to find the alternatives?
Is it the job of the industry?
(Ms Mathew) I think it should be done by consultation.
We have been talking with the industry and other representative
bodies on a national scale and also locally, to work with the
communities to look for a way forward, not just with the local
planning authority but with other members of the community. There
are clearly always alternative sites that are acceptable to all
parties concerned. But in many cases, where there has been controversy,
it is because the cheapest and best option for the phone company
has been chosen above all other options.
55. The problem is that other people will not
accept the alternative site and one of the cases that you forwarded
to us was about the deal between Herts County Council and Orange
to put them on lamp-posts but you are not in favour of that?
(Ms Mathew) No. The trust is not in favour of that.
In fact, a lot of our cases are lamp-post masts. People have a
fear of having those, sometimes, 5 metres from their child's bedroom
window, which is totally unacceptable to them.
56. It was suggested that in children's classrooms,
there are higher levels of radiation than there should be. What
should we do about that?
(Ms Mathew) I am sure they do. As I understand it,
there is a difference between that and mobile phone radiation,
which is digitally pulsed. But I am sure that if my child was
expected to sit in front of a computer for the six hours a day
that he was in school, I would be concerned. But that is not what
is happening. They spend shorter amounts of time. There is different
radiation and there is also the question of exposure. If you are
living near a mast, it is 24 hours a day.
57. Can I go back to the issue we were discussing
earlier in relation to planning that irrational public fear is
a relevant planning consideration? How do you feel that that should
be reflected in the planning policy guidance. Surely, you can
whip up public hysteria about something and it would seem that
we are in danger of having a planning rule which would encourage
opponents of a mast to get large numbers of people on the basis
of perhaps irrational fears, with signed petitions, and whip up
opposition to a mast and then that becomes a ground for refusing
planning permission whereas people who are not similarly whipped
up will find that they have a mast outside their house. What do
you feel about that?
(Mr Meyer) I think there are real dangers in the whole
situation but I think you have to rely on the fact that there
is a certain amount of common sense usually present in a local
planning authority's planning and development and control committee.
There are problems but I think that the main problem has been
that there was never sufficient or, in many instances, any consultation
with the local community at all. It is not sufficient for the
mobile phone network operator's agent, it is very rarely the operators
themselves, to go along and chat with one planning officer. I
think that the feeling is that to do it properly, you need to
be able to raise the issues. I do not want to get too legalistic
about it because I think we would be on very dangerous ground.
But the fact is that since 2nd October, a public authority, a
planning authority, you have to be entitled to a fair, impartial
and independent hearing. If you are told that you cannot consider
possible adverse health effects, then that would probably not
be in accordance with the law. However, how much weight a planning
authority places on it, it was quite clear in the Tandridge case,
Lord Justice Schiemann states that it is common ground that genuine
public fear is a material planning consideration but he then added
quite properly and quite fairly that how much weight a local planning
authority places on it is a matter for them. We believe that if
there were two things, firstly, full planning for all masts but
secondly that the network operator perhaps had to set out in his
planning application what local consultations had been conducted
in advance, a large amount of the problems would disappear because,
as Ms Perham said, there are different constituencies and different
thinking in a local planning authority's area. We have really
considered this for a very long time. There are different parameters
which may apply in an rural constituency where you can put a mast
outside a village and not necessarily bang in the centre. That
is much more difficult in a conurbation but most conurbations
have very tall buildings within them and you can put them on the
roofs, as they do in many countries abroad. They put them on the
roof and that, to some degree, overcomes the problem. In Denmark,
there was a great row about a mast put on the roof of a block
of flats over the head of a member of the Danish Government. He
was absolutely furious about this mast on his roof. He had this
checked out by the University of Aarhus to see whether it was
safe and he was delighted when he found that the only emissions
were likely to affect the opposite tower block and one of his
political opponents lived there. It is very difficult, but certainly
the feeling is that masts' beams drop at an angle of 6 degrees,
as stated in the Stewart Report, and if they are very high, by
the time they come to first-floor bedroom windows and things like
that, they will be a long way away. We do not know. That is the
problem. At Sir William's launch meeting for research applications,
Dr Michael Repacholi said, "The only projects we are interested
in deal with the biological effects. Nobody is interested in thermal
heating. We know about that". That is what the public are
concerned about; that the guidelines could possibly be the wrong
guidelines, not that they are wrong about thermal heating but
that the biological effects, if there are any, and I would stress
that we do not know, so I think it is very difficult.
58. The only significance, in terms of human
rights, is that it gives you a say?
(Mr Meyer) I think it gives you two things. I think
it gives you a right to a say and I think a lot of people would
feel much happier if they did have a right to a say. That is very
useful. But we often have no choice. Let us suppose that somebody
puts a mast outside the back of my garden and I then want to sell
my house. The estate agents give my potential purchasers six sets
of particulars. They go round in their car and see a mast at the
end of the garden. They will not even look at the house in future.
You could be in negative equity. You are in an impossible situation.
So there is the article which says you have a right to a say,
or may be it does. We have to wait and see what a judge says.
But the second thing is that Article 8, which has always been
in existence but nobody would trek to Strasburg to find out the
answer five years later, says, together with the first protocol,
Article 1, that you have a right to respect for private and family
life, your possessions and your correspondence. I do not think
we are very interested in correspondence but Article 1 makes it
quite clear that "possessions" include your home which
is, presumably, your major possession. It says quite clearly in
Article 8(2) that in the public interest, that Article 1 right
can be interfered with if it is necessary. What we think is important
is for both the network operator and, I suspect, for the local
planning authority too, because a public authority cannot do an
act which is incompatible with convention rights, to take into
account that you need to look at the alternatives and to make
a choice in the interests of the community. It will mean that
somebody's NIMBY approach will not work. Somebody else's might,
we do not know. But these are changes which have come about since
Stewart and which take into account possible adverse health effects
as being something that at least you can discuss, for what it
is worth, and there may be adverse property implications which
could be more important to a lot of people. But I do not want
to get too involved in the law because we do not know the answer,
59. A lot of the problems started way before
October of last year, did they not?
(Mr Meyer) I know.