Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 195)



  180. What about the issue of the amount of equipment you get on buildings? Do you think that the numbers are outdated? Can I just say, as we all have, I have an example at the edge of my constituency at a place called Quarndon a Severn Trent water tower—I think they have just disposed of it—a 100 foot concrete structure. Some of the people around there have got concerns about health issues but quite frankly, irrespective of whether you have got views on the health issues, the actual view of the building is just horrendous. There is that much kit and ironwork and superstructure on there, the ground is littered with cabins, equipment cabins, there is noise emanating from there at night. It seems to me that the whole thing is something of a mess. There is the prospect of more applications coming in from the companies you represent to go on to that site as well. Do you think that the limits on what can go on buildings are outdated and want revising perhaps downwards? Aesthetically it is a mess basically.
  (Mr Innes) If I try not to discuss the aesthetics, because I do not know the particular site, but look simply at the legislation that currently exists, where more than three operators wish to use a site in any event the site will be the subject of a full planning application under current legislation. The opportunity to discuss the visual amenity on proposed legislation exists today and equally if the numbers of antennae, size of antennae, are greater than a certain limit in the current process, it is already the subject of full planning. It may be that if we analyse any particular site that some sites can be developed to a limit that perhaps seems beyond the bounds of common sense, but I think generally the rules have worked well. Maybe it is incumbent on the industry to persuade government and local authorities to allow those sites to be more developed by looking at their own installations to see if they can be improved.

  181. I do not think in the case I cite it has worked well but that is a personal view. Just coming to the potential disadvantages of site sharing and mast sharing, there was a French report that was produced taking a view that a proliferation of masts could lead to a higher intensity of emissions and therefore from a health point of view that may not be desirable. They are arguing on the one hand for the need for mast sharing, but what are your views on the French report?
  (Mr May) I think the key thing is to ensure that any installation that has multiple operators on it still complies with all the ICNIRP guidelines in total and that is the position that we take with those multiple installations.
  (Mr Short) I think the French view generally was highlighting that mast sharing was not a panacea. Not only are we going to comply with international guidelines, we want to make sure that whatever is put in place is suitable for the environment as well. We also need to take into account non-cellular interests. Clearly the majority of the discussion today is about mobile and cellular, but the reality is that any changes to site practices and site sharing needs to take into account a variety of telecommunications applications. I do not know the particular site you were referring to earlier on—

  182. It has got everything on it, police, fire, microwave dishes, you name it.
  (Mr Short) One of the real issues when it comes to reviewing planning scenarios is saying does this affect just mobile or a range of telecommunications infrastructure and the consequent effect, not just on the environment and public, but a range of users and competitors in this country. We feel strongly and passionately about infrastructure being handled in a consistent way not just for mobile but a range of telecommunications services.

  183. Do you think that if the Government goes down the road of removing this permitted development arrangement and full planning permission is required, that there is a good case for local authorities saying they will require some proof if an application comes in for a non-shared mast that all the avenues for mast sharing have been taken into account rather than just relying upon the industry saying "We cannot do it. It could not happen. The technology is not right"? Surely, there needs to be some proof positive arrangement for local authorities?
  (Mr Innes) I refer to the undertakings we are giving and one of the undertakings is to work up a standard format of application with support material with the local authority bodies, and it is likely that some level of proof will form part of that standard application. I think the answer has to be as an industry if the local authorities find it useful we will provide it. An understanding of proof also has some understanding of the technical requirements and operating parameters of the networks which perhaps is not something that is there within the local authorities today, so it has to be a level of proof that also involves a level of trust. Working with the local authorities we would hope to develop that level of trust so that the proof is there as part of the standard application. The answer is, yes, if they feel they require that level of information, they ask for it today and are given that today in the form of plots of coverage.

  184. How can you address as an industry people's cynicism in that although it could be said that these are fine, warm wards at the moment about what you intend to do in the future, it has been said to me, and I am sure it has been said to yourselves as well, as an industry you have trampled over the sensitivities of local communities and masts have been slapped down here and there despite huge protests from people on health grounds and aesthetic grounds. You have got on with it and you have had the power to do it and you have used those powers pretty ruthlessly. How do you counteract cynicism in the future that people might have about how you deal with that?
  (Mr Innes) May I relate to the present by saying that over 90 per cent of current applications in the environment we are facing today go through with little or no concern being raised. So we are talking about a fairly small sample of sites that give cause for concern and those are the sites that we clearly need to address with communities as part of the strategies we have such that if there is no great public concern because there has been that consultation and understanding (which does not always give rise to acceptance) then we will be seen to have done our job, so I think the cynicism will fall away.
  (Mr Dunn) We are all very aware of the reputational risk to our companies and that is very important to us. If there is cynicism I think that is the clearest answer from my point of view; we are interested in the good name of our companies and we want to maintain that good name so we need to get that right.

  185. I was just going to say I am interested in what you said, Mr Innes, because again not very far from me is an issue of a mast where there has been a lot of controversy. When the mast was put up it was over 15 metres high, an enforcement order was taken by the local authority, and they just came along and replaced that mast with one which happened to meet the requirements of 15 metres, but which does not meet the objections of the people in that locality. That was an opportunity, I would have thought, to get it out of the area into a slightly less sensitive area and you did not take it.
  (Mr Innes) I do not know the circumstances of your particular example, but clearly as an industry we do need from a representational point of view to take account of those type of opportunities and if we have not been the best we need to do better.

Ms Perham

  186. I think you have already touched on the use of public authorities' and utilities' buildings and Vodafone have suggested that should be mandatory. Is that the industry's view as a whole that public utilities' buildings need to be used?
  (Mr Short) We need to classify the types of public buildings sensitively. Again we do not want to come across with lots of panaceas here, but when we see that the former British Gas and BT are making their sites available we see little reason why other national utilities do not follow the same line. Maybe Vodafone should add to that given it was their original comment, but we broadly support that line.
  (Mr May) We were pointing out that there are a number of structures already are within the environment and skyline suitable for the sorts of installations that we want to install and adding our installations to those structures, be they lamp-posts, road signs or whatever, would minimise the impact that we have on the environment. We would just appreciate some help in making sure that all those opportunities are available to the industry. A lot of them belong to the previously nationalised utilities so we are just making a suggestion to improve the number of solutions available to the industry.


  187. Why should it be utilities and not engineering firms or other bodies? Is it just because they are easy targets?
  (Mr May) We simply alighted upon them as having appropriate sorts of structures that would be suitable which already impinge on the skyline or the environment rather than just trying to be broad and talk about buildings in general or industrial premises in general.

Ms Perham

  188. What about the Highways Agency, do you have problems with them if you want to site along roads or their routes?
  (Mr Innes) I think it is fair to say that the whole industry is keen to work with the Highways Agency in establishing a network of sites that could be shared or minimised, depending on how we decide to approach it, on the trunk road infrastructure within their control, and it has been keen for a while.

  189. Obviously the big thing about public buildings is schools. We were talking to Mast Action earlier this morning, and it was certainly highlighted in the Stewart Report itself about schools and the vulnerability of children. Do you have an industry view on that?
  (Mr Dolan) The whole issue of schools has obviously been of concern to people in the community who are directly affected by it. It certainly occupied quite a bit of the time of the Stewart inquiry as it went around the country in its various public meetings and it was asked by many people to recommend a moratorium on future building of radio base stations on schools. However, the Stewart Report itself directly addresses the issue and says it appears to be an easy quick-fix but it is not, it sends an entirely wrong message. You have referred earlier today in questioning witnesses in relation to hospitals. What about other facilities where people are where there are densities? Children do not just come to school, they live other lives as well. At the end of the day we have a situation here where the science as reviewed by the Stewart Inquiry and also by a number of other bodies in other countries and also by the World Health Organisation is all saying "we have looked at all the evidence and we cannot see that there actually is a problem, however there does need to be some more research and we need to have some of those questions answered, so let us adopt a precautionary approach until we have a better feel for it". That is coming off the base of effectively what is a risk of a risk, if you want to use that term. It is in that context that the Stewart Report made its recommendations in relation to the beam of greatest intensity. Clearly in future development as part of the consultation process there will have to be active involvement of the school community, both the owner of the school and the school community itself. Ultimately if that whole community is saying to the operator "yes, we are quite happy for the mast to come on the school" then that will be a co-operative decision. What is interesting in the context of the Radiocommunications Agency audit is that already of those undertaken, again it underscores how well within the ICNRIP guidelines exposures are and also we understand there has not been a great take-up from existing schools to have that audit undertaken. It is clearly a sensitive issue and one that needs to be handled carefully by all concerned. I think the RA audit is a key issue as far as this is concerned.

  190. What about some local authorities who have said that their land cannot be used for base stations, do you have a view on that?
  (Mr Innes) Only a view that it limits the supply of sites to the industry and to the public at large in terms of the best locations for base stations and it may not be wholly appropriate to have such policies. But the industry has to work within that, those frameworks exist, and we will look at all the alternative sites. One of the questions that arose earlier was how do we show the sites we have looked at to local authorities. It may be that in a planning applications the reason for applying for a site is that a local authority site was not available to us. We are sometimes proceeding with sites that are not our first choice where embargoes exist. It is a limitation of supply but we have to work within it. Like any other landlord, including schools, they can say no and we have to honour that.

  191. Are you happy with the ICNIRP guidelines because obviously some older base stations presumably do not comply with these? Is there anything you can do about that, or are doing?
  (Mr Dolan) As I indicated earlier, when that recommendation was announced on 11 May of last year, the industry immediately said that all future base stations would be built to that standard, but the reality is that most of the existing ones as far as the public are concerned already comply. The industry has put in place a review of existing base station sites and to retrofit as necessary and that is well under way.

  192. You are offering a certificate of compliance with ICNIRP guidelines. Who will the certificate be issued by?
  (Mr Dolan) That certificate will be issued by the operator and addressed to the local planning authority.

  193. You have an objection, do you, to local planning authorities asking for details of frequencies, or do you not have an objection?
  (Mr Innes) I am not aware that if it is asked for that that information has ever been refused to be given.

  194. You would provide that information to them if they wanted it?
  (Mr Innes) They can discover that information through the Radiocommunications Agency database anyway.
  (Mr Short) We are not trying to hide anything at all. If anything, we are trying to be as co-operative with the planners as possible. If they need the information we need to find ways within the ten commitments of providing that.

  195. Are you unhappy about the idea of exclusion zones and minimum distances?
  (Mr Short) I do not think we are unhappy. John, do you want to cover that?
  (Mr May) I think the definition of exclusion zones sounds a little bit dramatic. These are relatively short distances but the term creates the wrong impression. I think that is all covered within the ICNRP guidelines to make sure that we comply with that.

  Mrs Perham: That is all I have.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, gentlemen. I think we have covered virtually everything but if there is anything we have forgotten we will be in touch with you. Can I thank you for your frankness this afternoon, it has been extremely helpful and it has rounded off a useful day for us. We will be publishing evidence and other information in the near future. Thank you very much.

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