Mast sends wrong signal to Lloyd Webbers

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The Independent Online
The man who funded the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb is buried there. De Havilland flew his first aircraft from there. And for centuries, bonfires have been lit there at times of national celebration and tragedy.

Beacon Hill is rich in history and beauty, the site of an Iron Age camp and no stranger to skirmishes. But no one could have foreseen its latest role in the field of human conflict - the subject of a row between Lady Lloyd Webber and Lord Carnarvon over a Vodafone communications mast.

Today, before blood can be spilled, Lord Carnarvon, grandson to the man obsessed with Tutankhamun, will try to resolve the row he inadvertently started when he gave Vodafone temporary permission to erect the 15m mast at the foot of the hill in Newbury, Berkshire, six months ago. To the possible joy of the composer's wife, he intends to suggest moving it.

The mast, on the southern side of the ancient hill, has been built on a site of outstanding natural beauty and has caused consternation in the Lloyd Webber household next door. Although they cannot see the mast from their mansion, they feel its siting is an environmental outrage and they want Basingstoke and Deane council to refuse permanent planning permission when it debates the matter next week.

"It is outrageous that the mast has been put up in an area of outstanding natural beauty," said Lady Lloyd Webber.

"Planners don't seem to care what they allow to go up. I've already written to the council objecting to the scheme. I'm astonished that Lord Carnarvon and the council have given the [temporary] go-ahead for it."

After realising the extent of opposition to the mast - the council has received eight complaints - Lord Carnarvon moved last night to defuse the situation and said he is determined not to let the upset turn into an argument.

"I had a meeting with Lady Lloyd Webber two weeks ago and it was very amicable," he said. "No one is more aware of the importance of the site than I am - my grandfather is buried there. But I think we have to strike a balance between what the public needs in the form of better signals for their telephones, and what we all feel about the area.

"I have been away, but when I got back yesterday and learned of the strength of feeling, I got in touch with Vodafone and I'm having a site meeting with a director and an engineer tomorrow to see if it can be moved to a better spot and reduced in height by 3 metres. It turns out that they need it to service the south of Newbury, so it doesn't need to be high on a hill."

He confirmed that he would receive rent from Vodafone for allowing the mast on his land, but declined to say how much.

Mike Caldwell, a spokesman for Vodafone, said: "These sites can be very expensive and intrusive. We want to do without them, but we had no alternative."