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Monday, April 12, 2010

New bid to halt Darras Hall O2 phone mast

Special planning powers could harnessed in a bid to rectify a council blunder which opened the door for a controversial mobile phone mast to be built outside a popular school.
Anger erupted last year when Northumberland County Council's mistake resulted in Telefonica O² getting planning permission by default for the 12.5 metre-high mast outside 450-pupil Darras Hall First School in Ponteland.
Massive public protests have since persuaded the company to seek a less sensitive alternative site - but fears persist that the extant permission means the mast could still be built.
Now local county councillors have unanimously agreed to seek an Article 4 direction from the Secretary of State, which would revoke the permitted development rights for the school site and give it increased protection against phone mast development.
The move - agreed by the council's west area planning committee - is in response to a 1,800-signature petition from local residents calling for Darras Hall's Broadway area to be safeguarded.
It comes just weeks after hundreds of local people staged a silent protest outside the school, which persuaded O² to drop its plan to build the mast there.
The company is now working with council planners to identify an alternative location, but worries remain that it or another telecoms firm will return to the school site and implement the outstanding planning consent.
Richard Dodd, who represents Ponteland North on the county council, said seeking the Article 4 direction was the only option to protect the site from development.
"As local councillors we have to leave no stone unturned on this, and that is what we are trying to do. None of us are against mobile phone masts but we don't want them put outside a school.
"O² have said they won't put their mast there but this direction would make sure nobody else does either. O² might be playing the good guy but someone else could step in if planning permission exists there. If this direction is approved, there would have to be a completely new planning application and a prospective developer would have to start from scratch.
"What we are trying to do here is rectify a mistake made by the council's planning officials."
A council spokeswoman said the exact parameters of the area to be covered by an Article 4 direction would be agreed at the next meeting of the planning committee.
Permission for the school site was gained by default last May, when the council failed to make its decision to reject O²'s application within the required 56-day timescale. That sparked fury amongst parents, staff and governors at the school, and hundreds more residents opposed an alternative site further along The Broadway.
Planning rules say an Article 4 direction can be made where there is a "real and specific threat to the locality in which the development is to take place".
A report to the committee by officers said there needs to be a "compelling case" to justify such a move.
Source: Journal Live