BT wants space for satellite dish: Plans for caravan site half a mile from satellite tracking station seen as threat to security

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BRITISH TELECOM will today oppose plans for a gypsy camp near a sensitive satellite tracking station because it fears it would provide cover for terrorists and lead to break-ins by children, writes Chris Mowbray.

Hereford and Worcester County Council wants to build an overnight stopping camp for 20 gypsy caravans on its highways department salt depot in Madley, near Hereford.

British Telecom is objecting to the scheme, however, because the proposed site is only half a mile away from one of its largest and most secret earth satellite tracking stations. BT officials fear their equipment could be damaged by children breaking into the property and are also concerned that the camp site could be used by terrorists to spy on the satellite station.

They are asking today's meeting of the county council's planning sub-committee to refuse permission for the camp, which is needed to help ease a shortage of stopping places for gypsies in Hereford and Worcester.

In addition to sensitive defence information and the BBC World Service, the station carries the BSkyB television channel, computer data for international businesses and financial institutions, video links and the nation's international telephone service.

'The risk of fires and break-ins from uncontrolled children and irresponsible or subversive adults is a constant source of concern to BT in view of the sensitivity of the traffic carried by our equipment,' said Jonathan Collinson, BT's portfolio manager.

'The company is gravely concerned that the depot could be used by subversives to discreetly observe the operations of our site.

'The satellite station is of enormous national and international importance and the communications traffic that it carries is vital to businesses and the defence of the UK.'

The scheme is opposed by South Herefordshire District Council and Madley Parish Council, which are concerned about the effects of the site on the local area. The district council also fears gypsy families could be harmed by microwaves from the satellite station.

The site is being recommended for approval by Dr Martyn Heyes, the county engineer and planning officer. He said: 'A well-managed site should not adversely affect the surrounding property.'