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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mobile Mast Switch Sparks New Protests

Residents in Ponteland opposing plans for a mobile phone mast outside a village school are renewing their fight over a proposed alternative site about 200 metres away.

Earlier this year a bid by Telefonica O2 to put up a 12.5-metre mast in Broadway, Darras Hall, was rejected by Northumberland county councillors, following strong objections from Darras Hall First School, local councillors and residents.

But due to a planning blunder, it was revealed that the refusal was invalid, because it did not happen within the required 56 days of the initial application being received.

The oversight left O2 free to go ahead and install the mast next to the school. But the company agreed to hold talks with the council on finding an alternative and less sensitive site for the structure.

It has since submitted a revised application to erect a 15-metre mast further along Broadway, between 150 and 200 metres from the original site.

However, the changes have renewed fears of people living close to the new site, including elderly residents living in Darras Mews and families in Wentworth Court.

Objectors, who believe the mast will be a radiation hazard, a highway safety risk and detrimental to the visual appeal of the area, now believe the problem is simply being moved away from the school and on to their doorsteps.

Some residents have even taken to the streets with placards to inform local people about the proposal and to urge them to submit objection.

County councillor for Ponteland East, Mel Armstrong, said: “This is a really prickly situation because there is a feeling locally that the problem is simply being moved along.

“We are opposing this new site because it will affect just as many people as it would have done originally, but there is the danger that if it is rejected O2 will just revert back to the initial site.

“It is a Catch 22 situation which has a lot of people very concerned.”

Head teacher of Darras Hall First School, Peter Tincombe, said in a letter to parents that the alternative site did not allay his initial concerns, and that he had lodged a new objection as well as urging parents to do the same.

His objection reads: “Whilst I appreciate efforts to find an alternative site, the current application does not allow me to withdraw my original objections.

“There remains very significant concern and anger about this proposal within the community.”

A spokesman for O2, said: “It is part of our network roll-out programme to identify suitable locations for masts with the help of local authorities.

“Due to the circumstances surrounding this case and in the spirit of compromise, we agreed to negotiate an alternative.

“Understandably there are often concerns raised when masts are required in residential areas, but I would like to reassure the public that we adhere to strict industry guidelines and operate well below public exposure guidelines.”

A county council spokesman said: “O2 has submitted another application for a telecommunications mast on Broadway. This would be at the opposite end of Broadway and would be nearer to elderly people in particular than the previous proposal.

“The application will be heard by the west area planning committee on Thursday, November 5.”