Examination of Witness (Questions 67 -
TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2001
67. Good morning, gentlemen. Would you introduce
yourselves to the Committee?
(Mr Haslam) Good morning. My name is Mike Haslam.
I am the senior vice president of the Royal Town Planning Institute.
On my left is Peter Wilbraham, who is the institute's honorary
solicitor and on my right is Simon Birch who is the chair of our
Development Control Panel.
68. Maybe a good start-off point is to look
at this issue of planning and health. At the outset of your response
to the DETR document, the question of whether the planning system
can embrace health issues has been raised by you. It has been
a kind of sub-script this morning. I think it is fair to say that
there is a certain amount of side-stepping of the issue. Is the
planning system only about amenity or can it be about health?
(Mr Birch) We have a very clear position, Chairman,
in that we believe that the health issue should be addressed nationally
by national type approvals of the equipment being used; for example,
equipment type X is approved in a given set of circumstances and
equipment type Y in a slightly different set of circumstances.
So the health issue is addressed by those best able nationally
to give advice rather than by each local authority seeking to
apply its mind to hiring consultants to take a view with, inevitably,
different views from local authority to local authority. So we
have a very clear view that this should be done nationally.
69. In paragraph 16 of your response to the
DETR, you say that environmental and amenity issues are the mainstay
of the planning system. I take it then that you say, "Let
other people take the decisions about the nature of the kit",
and then you will deal with the environment and amenity but you
would, probably, within this set of guidelines would be the question
of how high it should be, the angles, those issues; the geometry
would be all sorted out beforehand?
(Mr Haslam) The local authority is simply not equipped
to deal with those very sophisticated issues. That is why we believe
it should be dealt with nationally.
(Mr Wilbraham) There are two aspects of the health
issue, it seems to us. One is the question: is there actually
a health risk associated with these masts? We are absolutely clear
that issue should be addressed at a technical level by government
and national advice should be given. And then you have got the
other aspect which borders on the amenity, which is people's perception
of whether there is a risk and the question of whether fear of
simply having the mast in the locality will give rise to illness
at one level, illness from fear as opposed to illness from the
emissions, down to loss of amenity simply by the fear of it being
there. The planning system inevitably has to cope with the second
because that is the issue which came from the Al-Fayed decision.
It has to cope with the first one as well but it is not equipped
to deal with the first one because it is a highly technical, complex
and specialist matter which absolutely must be dealt with by the
70. The Stewart report suggesting getting in
touch with the local health authority or the health board or whatever.
They may have a better handle on local circumstances, better than
the national guideline approach that you are suggesting?
(Mr Haslam) I suspect that if you go to the health
authorities, you will have as many different views as there are
health authorities. There are fewer of them than there are local
planning authorities but the same problem arises. Different people
have different views and we will have a mish-mash of responses
on a national basis which is why we come back to the feeling that
a national type approval is the way forward.
71. Given that that is the position that you
have adopted, let us take a slightly different approach to it.
Do you think that a local authority should be looking into the
frequencies used or do you think it should just be satisfied with
the ICNRP rules being observed?
(Mr Haslam) Again, the local authorities simply are
not equipped to deal with these technical issues. We have no expertise.
We would have to rely on external consultants and there are many
of those around. Different authorities will use different consultants.
Again, you will have a mish-mash of views.
72. I am just thinking, when the onward march
of the masts takes place and it goes onto the next phase in South
Norfolk, do I take it that the advice that the committee is going
to receive from yourself and your colleagues will be a bit "on
the one hand and on the other"?
(Mr Haslam) At the moment, inevitably, as my colleague
has said, there is a national fear. There is the fear coming from
the Al-Fayed case. The appeal decisions have been referred to
earlier. I think they are curious decisions, if I can put it in
those terms, and lacking a certain logic. But that is a matter
for others to take a view on. But without clear national guidance
on the safety of the particular types of kit being used, there
are going to be inconsistencies and different views around the
73. So you would be condemning local authorities
that are currently issuing blanket bans against any new masts?
(Mr Haslam) Indeed, because that is going against
what the role of the local authority is to do which is to make
those decisions on a rational basis and a blanket ban is, by its
74. What do you think would be the effect on
operators if you had to have applications for each individual
site? Do you think that is a feasible way forward?
(Mr Haslam) That is how we treat development generally.
There appears to be no reason why mobile phone masts should be
treated differently from other forms of development. There will
inevitably be some delay but the price of that, I suspect, will
be a better public recognition of the process. At the moment,
the public are hugely disenchanted by the process.
75. Do you not see that there might be some
virtue in having applications for a network of masts because if
you are going to do the third generation roll-out and it is going
to get 80 per cent coverage by 2007, we are talking about networks
rather than individual sites, one after the other. It may be that
if you turn down one site and accept another one, that does not
help to provide network coverage. Do you believe that there should
be some scope under the planning system whereby applications could
be made for a whole network?
(Mr Haslam) I cannot see any theoretical reason why
not. The obvious problem is that it would cross different local
authority boundaries and Parliament has currently decreed that
each local authority should determine its own planning applications.
In theory, there should be no reason why multipleapplications
involving, say, 60 to 70 masts should not be considered by the
various local authorities as one operation.
(Mr Birch) I think that the problem with that is that
there will always be choice on the location of each mast and within
that, I think there should still be the opportunity for public
consultation for each mast location. There will always be choice
within the network. I am not entirely sure that that would work
because if an authority wanted to refuse one, could it do that
without refusing the other 59?
76. We are talking about very large numbers,
are we not?
(Mr Birch) Yes.
77. How many are there in South Norfolk, for
example, or Guildford?
(Mr Wilbraham) Yesterday, I did some quick research
on how many applications with prior notification under the present
GPDO had been submitted in the last year to a number of authorities.
I looked at Leeds, Bradford, Manchester, Birmingham and Tower
Hamlets. Last year each of the northern cities had just under
100 applications for prior notification, Birmingham had 18 and
Tower Hamlets had 1,800. So on the basis that the operators are
concentrating on the M25 ring, if that is correct, and I do not
know, then Tower Hamlets' experience may be a precursor of what
may be coming for the rest of the country.
78. If that happened, could the local authorities
(Mr Haslam) It is most unlikely that every authority
is going to get 1,800 or some similar number of applications at
one time. It may be that the industry itself is being a little
bit cavalier for these purposes, with that number of applications
to one authority. You do not actually generate huge numbers of
applications at that one point in time. Each one takes time to
produce and is submitted individually.
(Mr Wilbraham) In fact, Tower Hamlets may be a very
special case because of the nature of the developments that are
79. Do you think that there would be a case,
in any event, for saying that there should be some mast applications
which would not require planning permission? At the moment, you
do not have to apply for permission for every single satellite
dish or TV aerial, only in specific circumstances, if you have
got a listed building or are in a conservation area?
(Mr Birch) We have said that any ground-based masts
require planning permission, irrespective of height. But certainly
there is a case for the smaller installations to be permitted
development. The general public at large expect masts to be subject
to planning permission so they have an opportunity to be fully
consulted on that. At the moment, I think that the prior notification
system leads to a lot of confusion. People think that things are
going through on the nod without being properly considered.