"War on mobile phone companies over masts"

London Evening Standard

Mark Prigg - Technology correspondent

   Leading MPs today launched a blistering attack on mobile phone companies.

   They accuse the firms of "walking all over" the feelings of local people when putting up masts - and councils of failing to really understand the issues when agreeing to allow masts to go up.

    The report from the all Party Parliamentary Mobile Group calls for tough new legislation on the siting of masts amid fears about their health implications.

    The head of the group claims planning rules favour mobile phone companies. Phil Willis MP said: "We are calling for legislative changes to at least make it a level playing field."

    Under the regulations:

    * Phone companies can begin construction of a mast if they have not heard from a local authority 52 days after lodging a planning application.

    * Masts that stand less than 15 m in height can be erected without full planning permission.

    Today's report calls for full planning applications to be mandatory for all masts. "Phone companies are, in some cases, walking all over the local community," said Mr Willis.

    The report also criticises local authorities for failing to understand the technical issues surrounding masts. It said: "The mobile operators can be very aggressive in getting what they want and a lot of smaller planning departments, particularly in London, don't have the technical resources to make an informed decision."

    Mr Willis called for a register of experts to be set up for the use of authorities when considering applications.

    Giving evidence to the parliamentary group, Mike Dolan, executive director of the Mobile Operators Association, representing the major phone networks, said: "Operators have greatly improved their consultation with communities and councils.

    "Greater planning controls will do nothing to address community concerns."

    There are more than 40,000 masts in Britain, with a further 3,100 providing communications for the emergency services. Scientific opinion remains divided on whether mast radiation is harmful to health.