Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 67 - 79)




  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 Government.

  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 country.

Mr Chope

  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 nature, irrational.

  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?

The Chairman

  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.

Mr Chope

  78. If that happened, could the local authorities cope?
  (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 within it.

  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.

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