Tetra masts erected without planning permission!

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New Milton Advertiser - 22nd November 2003

Planning anger over Tetra masts

  District Council planning committee chairman Coun. Pat Wyeth has slammed the actions of Airwave MMO2, which has put up two controversial terrestrial trunked radio (Tetra) masts for New Forest police without planning permission. "That a company acting on behalf of both the Government and the police should choose to be so indifferent to the concerns of the local community and ride roughshod over the planning system only serves to undermine the public's confidence in the credibility of our public institutions," she said.

   Despite the health fears of residents who live near a Tetra mast put up without planning permission in Dibden, NFDC has not demanded that it ends transmission. Explaining the reasons behind the decision, a report from principal planning officer Steve Avery stated that serving a stop notice on health grounds would not be in accordance with national planning guidance and could lead to costs being awarded against NFDC.

   Enforcement notices requiring the masts to be removed on visual grounds notices had been served although O2 lodged an appeal against them. Because of high levels of local concern the appeals will be heard at a public enquiry.

   "In deciding whether or not to serve a stop notice, the Council is required to carry out a cost/benefit assessment of taking such action, i.e. weighing the private costs likely to be incurred by the developer against the benefits that would accrue to the wider public.

   "In this instance, the agents acting for Airwave advised that they would incur substantial financial costs as a consequence of any stop notice action and that the Hampshire police force would be unable to test their new telecommunications system." his report stated.

   It continued: "It is very regrettable that Airwave have chosen to circumvent the planning system and erect a mast without planning permission. A similar situation has also occurred at Fritham and again, an enforcement notice has been served. Airwave have been notified in writing that if any further masts are erected without planning permission, the Council will take immediate and robust enforcement action."

   Coun. Wyeth has written to the chief constable of Hampshire and the Deputy Prime Minister stating that they have a "moral duty to help ensure these unauthorised masts are now removed as a matter of urgency and that any further masts are only erected having first been subjected to the normal scrutiny of our planning system".

   As previously reported, O2 Airwave's spokesperson told the "A&T" that in some cases planning permission was being sought retrospectively because the system was needed quickly and that ultimately all masts would carry planning permission.

   At last month's meeting of Dibden Residents Against Tetra (DRAT), John O'Brien of Protect Sussex from Tetra accused Airwave of using "bullying tactics". "They are working to a commercial deadline and their tactics are to put masts wherever. They claim they have emergency powers as they are working for the emergency services," he said. Mr O'Brien also warned Dibden residents of health risks linked to low-level electromagnetic radiation, including childhood cancer, miscarriage, and fatigue.

   Claims were made at the DRAT meeting that the system operates at 17.6Hz, which is similar to the brain's frequency of 16Hz, but this was countered by Airwave's spokesperson who said that masts transmit at between 380 and 400Hz and that only coding systems on the handsets operate at 17.65Hz.

   At last weeks planning committee meeting Coun. Maureen Holding stated: "O2 have gone to great lengths to say these masts do not pulse. I would question this, as would many other people. I've been told that officers have been instructed not to report illnesses to their medical officers, but to go straight to their GP's.... Tetra will cost in excess of £3 billion. The same French system cost £300 million. There is something wrong. We should refuse permission and insist it be taken down."

   Three schools are sited within 500 metres of the Dibden mast, added DRAT chairman Barrie Slipper. "People living near these masts experience headaches, nausea and loss of sleep," he said.

   Coun. Robin Harrison countered claims that the masts caused health problems, but added concerns for police using the system. "Current research is not supporting the idea that pulsed signals are any worse than non pulsed ones. We've got to face it, the evidence is against them having a health risk here. Handsets are far more likely to do more damage than masts," he said.

   Speaking on behalf of O2, Peter Sitch admitted that earlier problems with handsets "spiking" injured some officers' hearing, but he stated that Motorola cured this problem quickly. "The science is very clear. There is no demonstrable risk to health ," he said.

   Tetra has faced widespread opposition, but O2's spokesperson insisted that the system operates well within national and European guidelines.

   An independent research scientist, Roger Coghill, who is also a member of the Department of Health's UK mobile telecommunications health research programme, was quoted in the Guardian in May 2001 as stating: "A criminal could not have come up with a better system. They couldn't have chosen a better frequency with which to disarm and debilitate the very forces that are trying to secure their arrest."

   The Guardian's article also quoted Alasdair Phillips, director of the campaign group Powerwatch and an expert on the biological effects of electromagnetic radiation. "It is beyond belief that anyone could be contemplating the roll out of a system like Tetra because of the evidence about the dangers of pulsed frequencies. To design a communications system based on these principals is mind numbing. The effects we may see could well be on a par with Gulf War syndrome."

   The Police Federation's statement on Tetra reports that it recognises the benefits of the system's clearer communication leading to greater officer safety, but that concerns remain over having the system "imposed" before complete results of possible long-term health effects are known. "We understand the huge potential and operational benefits Tetra can provide, however no one can categorically state whether the system is safe of unsafe. In the meantime officers have no option but to use the system because analogue wavebands are becoming obsolete.

   "The police Federation demands for health monitoring have been accepted and we welcome the Government's agreement to fund a 15 year health monitoring study of police Airwave users. A £5 million study will be conducted by Imperial College London," the report stated.