Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 150)



  140. Do all of you have registers?
  (Mr Jones) Like Mr Joyce was saying, we have a register which gives details of the planning applications which have been permitted for masts. What we do not have is a register for masts or base stations which did not need permission, because we would not necessarily know about those. We have just a register of planning permissions, or applications, should I say.
  (Councillor Bailey) All local authorities will have a register or database of applications for masts which are already constructed. It is a question of future ones and other information about them, particularly emissions, is it not? We would all welcome a national database on that. As far as I know the industry are prepared to cooperate in making that available. I think that would be helpful.
  (Councillor House) The real issue here is establishing that database in the public domain so that there can be more confidence developed across the range of issues involved. Getting confidence into the system is a bit like the planning framework at the moment. There are a lot of missing gaps.

  141. When you talk about emissions, do you also mean the angle that the greatest beam of emission would travel down?
  (Councillor Bailey) Yes.

Mr Chope

  142. You are talking about emissions but we know that there are different levels of emissions depending on the time of day. If you are talking about peak time for mobile telephony, the emissions are very much higher than they are perhaps in the middle of the day when there is not so much use. You are speaking as though there is some absolute: you have a mast there and it is going to emit so much in terms of emission. The more masts you have, ultimately, the fewer emissions each will emit because there will be more of them and they will be able to share the responsibility, so to speak. Is that concept getting across in the consultations that you are having with the public?
  (Councillor House) It is not getting across at the moment. I have been interested in discussing some of these issues with telecoms operators in other parts of Europe and there are quite clearly different kinds of debates in different parts of Europe at the moment about these issues. We have a long way to go in educating and informing our communities about real issues related to masts, mobile phones, emissions, health risks or not health risks. Until we can start getting some clarity in policy terms, we are not going to begin that debate. That will remain as a critical gap. Yes, there are lots of issues around information and education which are part of the discussion.

  143. If we go from the present system to a new system of planning permission having to be obtained and consultation, do you think what is going to happen is that people's expectations are going to be raised enormously and they will be dashed as they realise that there are still no hard and fast answers on this, for the very reasons we have been discussing?
  (Councillor House) We are talking about trying to resolve a series of problems. Some are fairly simple to resolve. Bringing this type of development into the planning system in a more conventional sense is part of making that jigsaw fit together. Establishing clear guidelines, publishing and agreeing what prior warning arrangements there are, is the next part of our jigsaw. Publishing a national database in a form in which everyone can access it is part of that jigsaw. We are talking about a staged process. Clearly, we are not going to suddenly expect all our local communities to be jumping up and saying, "Yes, please, we would like an extra phone mast." We are trying to get clarity of the process so that we can understand the systems of operation and some of the underlying health issues, for example.

  144. You think the government is going to deliver on that?
  (Councillor House) That is for the government. We want the government to publish revised guidelines quickly to resolve some of those difficulties as part of the process.
  (Councillor Bailey) There are public exposure guidelines. The Stewart Report recommends that they should be adhered to. Provided that is done, that at least gets through that part of the hurdle. It makes it all transparent and obvious. Allaying public concern afterwards is another matter. At the moment, we are in a position where we do not know that that is happening. We are not able to tell people that is happening and people naturally will be alarmed. It is like emissions of noxious substances or fuels from other plants. There are guidelines and there are emission levels. I cannot see a fundamental difference here.
  (Mr Joyce) Clearly the system at the moment does not allow adequate participation by the public. That creates its own problems in terms of the openness and transparency of decision making and faith in the system, whether it is local authorities or operators. The more opportunity there is for residents and others to participate, the better, and the more mature is the likely debate.
  (Mr Jones) The situation we now have with recent appeal decisions which have given credibility to the health risk argument is that the situation is more difficult for us and some clarity on that issue would be very much welcomed by all local authorities.

Ms Perham

  145. When we interviewed Sir William Stewart this morning and in his report there was discussion about the emphasis in the report on schools as base stations. That seems to be what a lot of the groups are worried about. The mast in the United Kingdom started off as one fighting about schools. Given that other people are adding other areas where there are lots of people, like hospitals, parks and areas where there are high density populations, do you need guidance in negotiating with operators on that or would this all come under PPG8 once it is issued? Do you need particular guidance on schools and other areas where a lot of people congregate?
  (Mr Joyce) On that issue, the reference is to sensitive sites. In the draft guidance, it does not go as far as examining that any further, other than to mention schools. It would be helpful to clarify what is meant by "sensitive sites" other than schools so that local authorities can take that into account in terms of either drawing up policies through development plans or dealing with planning applications per se.

  146. What about this deal which Hertfordshire County Council did with Orange about the 100 lamp posts? Were you aware of that being offered? They have offered 100 street lighting columns for the installation of low power boosters to improve transmission facilities. Is something like that possible between operators and local councils?
  (Councillor House) Giving publicity to initiatives like that can only be helpful. It shows cooperation between the industry and local government is already happening in some places. Yes. Why not?

  147. Have you had any dialogue with the Highways Agency, because they do not seem to be happy about masts near roads, although presumably that is where many might be located and needed.
  (Mr Jones) We have not had any discussions with them but we take advice from our own internal engineers on these sorts of matters, as to whether they would form a highway risk. In many instances, basing masts on highway verges rather than in residential areas, for example, would be a benefit rather than a disbenefit.
  (Mr Joyce) The Highways Agency are taking the same responsible attitude as any other land owner. There should not be a different approach. It is the same issue about the best solution in terms of an environmental point of view.


  148. On the schools issue, what is the attitude of the four councils represented today? Do any of your schools have masts on them?
  (Mr Joyce) Yes.
  (Councillor Bailey) Yes, but there is controversy on others. The Stewart Report says that the beam of greatest intensity should not fall onto school properties because of the concentration of young children. That is information that we do not necessarily have at the moment. Certainly in my authority some schools have them.
  (Councillor House) My authority is not a local education authority but the local education authority, Hampshire County Council, has I understand taken the view that it may well permit masts on school sites.
  (Mr Jones) There were a number of them in the early days who saw this as a revenue gaining exercise, but the balance has shifted significantly over the past two or three years to a situation where schools are not entertaining masts any more.
  (Mr Joyce) We would like more publicity of the Radio Communications Agency's offer to carry out surveys of masts. That has not been well publicised, although it is available on their website. In the explanatory text, the Radio Communications Agency do say that they will publish, after they carry out a number of surveys, their initial findings to see if there are different trends. That information would be very helpful to local authorities and to schools and local people.
  (Councillor House) To go back to the point that Mr Laxton was making about organisations and people putting their heads above parapets, schools are not going to be the first in the queue to put their heads above the parapet on an issue like this, when there is a vacuum of information. If there could be more clarity in terms of published guidelines and acceptance of processes, I suspect we would then be more likely to see schools, along with other organisations, coming forward where their sites are most appropriate. The appropriateness of sites has to be one of the key issues here, but it is not going to happen unless the policy vacuum is filled.
  (Councillor Bailey) As I understand it, the beam of greatest intensity is at some distance from the mast. Indeed a beam of any intensity is at some distance from the mast. It is a question of where that beam falls in relation to the schools or other sensitive sites that is the point that Stewart illustrates, rather than the location of the mast itself. Where there is public concern about having it on school premises, this is not likely to be allayed at the moment and may never be in the case of children obviously, but again this is one of the points where some further thought and guidance needs to be developed.

  149. If you have computers in schools, you probably expose kids to even more risks.
  (Councillor House) Yes, and the school children are likely to be using mobile phones whether we like it or not when they exit the school gates.

  150. Thank you very much. It has been very helpful. If we have any points that we would like to follow up with you, we will be in touch with you but thank you very much for your assistance.
  (Councillor House) When do you expect to publish your report?

  Chairman: Before the general election.

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