Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 108 - 119)




  108. Good afternoon. Could I repeat the warning I gave this morning? I would be obliged if you could switch your mobile phones off. It will not help in any way for us to have interruptions of that nature. Can I welcome the gentlemen from the Local Government Association? Perhaps you could introduce your colleagues?
  (Councillor House) My name is Councillor Keith House. I am the chair of the Local Government Association Planning Executive.

  (Councillor Bailey) I am Councillor Brian Bailey. I am deputy chairman.
  (Mr Joyce) I am Phil Joyce, Leeds City Council. I am an adviser on telecoms matters for the LGA.
  (Mr Jones) I am Graham Jones. I am the chief planning officer for the London Borough of Harrow.

  109. Perhaps we could start off with what has become the precautionary approach. One of the things we found this morning when we were discussing it is that there is an involvement of matters like health here which are normally beyond the direct considerations that councils would have. Setting aside that issue, how do you see the requirement for planning permission incorporating a precautionary approach? Is this something new or have you done it in other things in the past?
  (Mr Joyce) The position is that in most instances, if planning permission is granted, that is it. There is no opportunity to revisit it. The Stewart Report makes it very clear in advice that there is further research to be done and that may well be done over the next two to three years. If one is to look at it from a precautionary point of view, one would be looking at potentially giving perhaps planning permissions for a short period of time to allow the opportunity to revisit that decision once there is further evidence and further research done on the health issue. There is the potential to look at it in that particular way. Temporary planning permission is not a new thing for planning authorities or for the planning legislation.

  110. You suggest that there should be a time limit to planning permissions. Could this work in this kind of area? What about the expense to which a company will go in putting the mast up? Who would pay for the cost of taking it away, for example? How would you deal with that?
  (Mr Joyce) It is all around the health issue, is it not, in the sense that the Stewart Report clearly has found favour in all quarters and has some standing. His advice is that further research needs to be done. Unless you have some mechanism that allows you to revisit once you have further information, once the mast is there, it will be there for some years to come. If there is further evidence that comes forward that suggests there is a problem, the issue is then how do you remove that particular mast, because from the planning point of view you have no locus to do so.

  111. What about the masts which already have planning permission, which are blots on the landscape? How would you approach that both in planning terms and political terms, as elected representatives? How do you address that challenge?
  (Councillor House) With difficulty is the obvious answer. We have to try to resolve the health issue quite early on in this discussion because the health issues do not sit very comfortably in the planning system. We, as local government practitioners, recognise that that is the case. The idea of a certification process, independently audited before a planning application is submitted, seems to us to be the best way of isolating the health issues as part of the precautionary approach before the environmental issues, which is what the planning system is best geared to deal with, come into play. Over time, as technology changes and as the needs of operators change, there must be some likelihood that that will pick up some of the issues around existing base stations, existing masts. I suspect that time itself will address some of the issues around existing locations.

  112. As far as the precautionary principle is applied to this area, it is in respect of health?
  (Councillor House) Yes.

  113. The rest of it, for you, is just another planning issue. You take your chances. The officials give advice; the councillors do what they have to do and if somebody objects there is an appeal to the Secretary of State. Would that be a reasonable way of summing it up?
  (Councillor House) Yes, but the approach that we are keen to develop as local authorities is one of recognising that there does need to be a partnership between local government and the operators to develop a network and networks which can meet the needs of industry and the community at large. We see a lot of campaigns by residents' groups against home masts; yet those are the very people who are using the mobile phones. There is a tension here. We need to recognise that. Trying to compartmentalise the health issue by having clear guidelines that are accepted and understood, isolated from a planning system which people have a broad understanding of, gives a process which can be widely understood. In that sense, yes, these would become like any other planning application.

Ms Perham

  114. Do local authorities want to be in a position to refuse planning permission for masts simply because of perceived health risks, even if they meet these ICNIRP guidelines? Would you not be overturned on appeal if you only had health as a ground?
  (Councillor Bailey) I do not think local authorities would want to oppose just on perceived health grounds or refuse. What we are looking for is clear statements and guidelines nationally set between government and the industry which the installations would meet. We would want to be sure and have evidence presented in every case that they did do that. Dealing with health issues is not unfamiliar for local authorities. It is the case with incinerators or refinery operations where there are controls on emissions and all sorts of things. Evidence in the planning application there would be put forward that it did meet the statutory requirements in that case. We are looking for the same sort of system here and the installation would meet the nationally agreed guidelines. Setting those guidelines I do not think is a matter for local authorities. That is a matter for the industry and government nationally because there is a whole range of health issues which we are not perhaps directly competent to deal with.
  (Mr Jones) I think there is still a fair way to go in our experience to allay the health fears. That issue has to be tackled. You raise the issue of where we have got to as far as appeals are concerned. In my authority, we have won appeals recently on residents' perception of fear of the health issues. That is, in my experience, something which so far the evidence from the industry and from government has not allayed. It is still a very real issue amongst the public at large, particularly now as the technology is changing. What we are seeing is a lot more microcell installation in residential areas. That is a cause of real concern to our residents in our borough. From the requests we have had on the basis of the appeals that we have won, I think it is pretty widespread because we have had inquiries from across the country about the details of these appeal decisions.
  (Councillor Bailey) I was not meaning to say that perceived health fears were not serious concerns in people's minds. In relation to the planning budget, the recommendation of the Stewart Report was that there should be a three year programme to resolve these as far as possible and to jointly fund it.

  115. The government should issue national guidelines, or stronger than that?
  (Mr Joyce) It should remove the uncertainty from both local authorities, operators and the public. At the moment we are in limbo in the sense that there has been draft guidance and consultation has been carried out which was completed in October of last year. Everybody is now waiting for the final guidance to come out. There are two elements to the health issue. One is on the physiological side of things which clearly can be dealt with through some kind of system of licensing perhaps; but then there is the psychological issue of people, particularly residents, who are living with a mast at the end of the garden or in the street, wherever they go, and that again was picked up by Stewart. That is an issue that starts to impinge on the planning aspects of looking at such things as residential amenity and the appearance of masts and their proximity to residential properties.

  116. There was this letter that Nick Raynsford wrote on 29 June last year which was mentioned this morning and which we had referred to in the evidence. He wrote to local authorities stating that meeting ICNIRP guidelines would be enough. Presumably, that may have been to deal with the interregnum period while a new PPG8 emerges. What is your view about the new PPG8? Should that cover it or would the government have to take more action than reading through that guidance?
  (Councillor House) PPG8 is the key document that we are waiting for to give us the clarity in dealing with these issues that is currently lacking. The letter that was sent out by Nick Raynsford last June to all council leaders was of some help in that regard but it was not backed up by the PPG. We want that PPG issued quickly because we believe it is in the best interests of local communities and the industry. The uncertainty does make life very difficult. At the moment, we have a different process for this kind of development, as opposed to just about any other development and this raises concerns in itself to people in local communities. They do not understand the process. The concept of having an agreed system of regulation which could well be meeting the guidelines, as long as that is independently audited—a body like the NRPB could be a suitable body to do that—seems to us to be a good, constructive route forward, but it has to be within the context of this development needing planning permission in the same way as any other development.

  117. What about consulting health authorities? The Stewart Report suggested it and your response in October last year suggested that. How would that work? Do you think they have something to offer in determining these applications?
  (Councillor House) Potentially. As the position is at the moment, there is the expectation that guidelines will be in place and those will become effectively a precondition of the planning applications, but local authorities can still take health issues into account in determining planning issues. The health authority would seem to us to be the appropriate body to give advice on health related issues, given that most local authorities are not in a position to assess these things in a comprehensive and effective way. As a statutory consultee, the health authority could be in a position to fulfil that role. However, it is messy. If there are clear national guidelines that, having met the standard, that will be accepted as long as it is independently audited, that should be seen to meet the health test in the vast majority of cases.

  118. You would not need to consult the health authority if the guidelines were—?
  (Councillor House) Simply looking at it from a regulatory point of view, no.

  119. Do you know details of emissions in an application, presuming that the guidelines were as required and the information is not of any practical value to you in the planning sense? Would you need those details or would certification be the answer?
  (Mr Jones) If there was a clear certification system, that would probably mean that we did not have to have the emissions, although I suspect that it would be welcomed if we had both so that we could see what the emissions were and then we could judge for ourselves as well. It is the question of transparency in terms of what information is available to the public. Having that information and being in possession of a certification as well would be the ideal solution. Otherwise, it does lead to questions about how near is the limit and so on.
  (Councillor Bailey) I support that. I think we ought to have that information because it is important that in a local authority area you can build up a map of an overall understanding of this. The Stewart Report did say that in sensitive locations such as round schools that ought to be absolutely clear. There is no reason for hiding it.
  (Mr Joyce) The public need to be reassured and have access to that information if they have a doubt about a particular matter so that they can get that information quite easily. Secondly, that test should not be done by the operator; it should be done independently to provide some substance in terms of faith for the public.

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