Backbenchers protest at phone mast rules

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Proposed changes to planning laws governing mobile telephone masts fail to address public concerns about possible risks to health, a committee of MPs warned yesterday.

Proposed changes to planning laws governing mobile telephone masts fail to address public concerns about possible risks to health, a committee of MPs warned yesterday.

They said changes to extend the consultation periods for mast applications still did too little to allow residents to object. Under the changes, announced last month, companies will have to wait eight weeks before gaining planning permission for masts. But unlike building plans, authorisation comes automatically if councils do not object.

Only masts over 15 metres high will require planning permission, while development of smaller masts will be permitted if local authorities do not object.

But the committee attacked the changes for failing to allow individuals to object to the masts. The report said: "Unless it is clear that the planning system has a robust way of dealing with health fears expressed by people, the results of the changes will be yet more frustration.

"It is not surprising that all concerned are thoroughly frustrated with the complexity and arbitrariness of the planning approval system, which has grown up over the past 15 years as a result of repeated tinkering with the basic concept of permitted development rights."

There are currently about 22,500 mobile phone base stations in the UK and a further 3,000 are expected over the next three years. The report said: "The prospect of tens of thousands of new metal masts on every street corner is not a realistic one, but there will be thousands of new sites required for ground-based telecoms masts over the next few years.

"Changes in the planning regime fail to address the main problem, which is that objection to base stations comes not from local authorities, but from individuals who suffer from loss of amenity or fear of ill-effects for themselves and their families.

"Improved consultation is an intended consequence of the changes, but there is little ground to imagine that the outcome in terms of whether or not a development goes ahead will be that different."

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