So I’ve been holding off on that entry about the mobile phone mast, partly because it’s a lot to explain, but mainly, if not mostly, because it’s seeming pretty likely that ‘whinging’ about it, as Eddie Eldridge would put it, will not make the slightest bit of difference.

However, listener, the facts were these:

When a large (large as any I’ve ever seen) mobile phone mast was put up on top of SAS Bodyshop, 1 St. James’ Street, right next to St. James’ School and overlooking their playing field, I was quite surprised that I’d seen no application for planning permission in the local paper, or a notice on a nearby telegraph pole. I wasn’t entirely sure it was a phone mast, though, and I’ve never been one of those people who suspect that phone masts emit harmful radiation, so I didn’t pursue the matter as I could have done.

Couple of months back, though, I attended a city council planning meeting, concerning an application to turn the derelict B&Q building on Bruton Way into a camping store. I met Joanne Meneaud, the council’s planning officer, and arranged for future planning applications to be sent to the Barton & Tredworth Neighbourhood Partnership for consultation (they were being sent to the City Centre Community Partnership, but not us). When her email arrived comfirming this, I thanked her and asked, in passing, about the phone mast, and if residents had needed to be notified in advance of it’s installation, given its sensitive location. The answer came back that no planning permission had been required for the mast, due to ‘the size and type of equipment’. I replied that I still would have expected some public declaration of the enterprise, but she was sticking to her guns. Nothing to do with the city council.

I then did some digging for rules/guidelines on placing phone masts next to schools, and came up with these Frequently Asked Questions on the Mobile Operators Association (MOA). The relevant section is just over halfway down:

‘Q Why are masts still being built on schools when a precautionary approach has been adopted?

A To date, the balance of evidence from scientific research does not suggest that living near a base station causes adverse health effects. But in the light of continuing concern by some members of the community, operators who wish to build near or on a school must consult local planners, carry out extra public consultation and contact the school’s governing body before applying to doing so (my emphasis)’.

These are guidelines, remember, but I went back to Joanne Meneaud and queried if any such consultation with the council had taken place? Still got zip, except that the company concerned was Vodafone.

So I tried contacting Vodafone (really hard trying to type ‘f’ instead of ‘ph’), and their online contact facility was broke to non-customers, so I went to their Facebook page, and put this query. I waited for their reply, though I had a feeling they were going to try to deal with it quietly, like such companies do. Sure enough, a week passed with no further response, and my original entry travelling quickly down the ‘Wall’. So I made a new entry, reminding them and yep, they played the ‘we expected you to send us an email’ card. They did, though, eventually say that they had consulted our ward councillors, so I emailed those councillors (which included, at the time, Carol Francis). Only Mrs Francis replied, saying that she knew nothing of any consulation. The two other ward councillors, Harjit Gill (Lab) and Usman Bhaimia (Lib Dem), as well as county councillor Sonia Friend (Lab), have never responded, despite a second email.

So, either Vodafone are lying, or misinformed (which for a national company is just as bad), or our councillors are trying to keep their heads down because they gave their assent to a project which would almost certainly have met with resistance, rightly or wrongly, if they had consulted local residents in turn. Wonder if they received a ‘consultation fee’? I could keep badgering the councillors about this, and they know that very well, but as I said, it seems like it would be a wasted effort, so I’ll tell the tale, and leave it at that.

If there’s any kind of moral to draw from this, it’s that you shouldn’t rely on your local authority, or your elected representatives, to keep you informed. You have to go out and find the information. And never put your faith in ‘guidelines’. Peace out…

Note: the MOA changed the FAQs page url from http://www.mobilemastinfo.com/information/faqs.htm to http://www.mobilemastinfo.com/faqs/frequently-asked-questions.html. I’ve corrected the link.

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