Phone masts spread blight

We love our mobiles, but their towers can knock ten per cent off the value of a home, says Penny Jackson
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Just the mention of a mobile phone mast is enough to send a shudder through residential communities. Feelings run high because people fear their homes will become more difficult to sell and tens of thousands of pounds will be wiped off values.

Last month, a woman who was selling a house in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, was told by estate agents that it was worth almost pounds 50,000 less than the original valuation after a mast was put on a telephone pole outside her front gate. Jennifer Redman received a letter from Hamptons International advising her that because of the mast's proximity to her house, the asking price would have to come down from between pounds 430,000 and pounds 440,000 to about pounds 380,000.

A phone mast, according to David Adams, Hamptons' sales director, could lower the price of a house by about 10 per cent, whereas a motorway or a noisy road would be in the region of 30 per cent. But although in financial terms it is treated like any other blight, the perceived risk to health from the masts makes it a particularly emotive issue. Anti-mast campaigners warn that the radiation emitted by them is potentially dangerous, and even though scientific reports have found no evidence that there is a risk to those living in the vicinity, the impression of an invisible hazard has left its mark in many people's minds.

Nancy Watts knows from bitter experience what can happen. When the bungalow built by her husband in the countryside near Market Drayton, Shropshire, failed to sell, they were told by estate agents that the problem was the communications tower bristling with antennae that is sited just 20ft from the Watts' home. Unless they were prepared to drop the price by pounds 80,000 they couldn't hope to sell.

"Buyers would say how much they adored the house and then you would take them outside and that would be the end of it. They were horrified by the monstrosity. But we can't afford to walk away from what should be pounds 250,000 because that is our retirement money," says Mrs Watts.

The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England points out that telecoms operators do not always have to apply for planning permission. "There are areas of outstanding beauty where bodies, such as Network Rail, can put up conspicuous masts on their land," explains Paul Miner.

Landowners and property owners can accrue a valuable income from siting a mast. The average is about pounds 5,000 a year for ground-based sites and pounds 7,000 for roof top sites. James Laing, the head of the rural division of Strutt & Parker, estate agents, says: "A mast takes up a minuscule bit of land, causes negligible disruption when being built and sends out warm and happy rays with pound signs. It is a 30ft piece of engineering and looks just what it is. I can see no reason for trying to disguise it as a tree, which is what has been done along the M4 and looks naff. It is a piece of modern-day life and I find a mobile phone more useful than smoke signals."

Since last year it has been possible to insure yourself against a fall in property values if a nuisance, such as a phone mast, lands on your doorstep. Lucas Fettes & Partners sell policies at a cost of pounds 12 a month.

More often, the fight is on health rather than visual grounds. In Notting Hill, London, local parents - many of them celebrities - have recently won a very public battle to keep a mobile phone mast away from their children's nursery school. In Whitton, Richmond, residents successfully fought off an application for a 3G base station in a spot close to two primary schools and three nurseries. Gemma Davies, a founder of the campaign group, said that the area was still blighted by those masts put up before planning permission was required: "Our overriding concern is the unknown health risk it poses to more than 900 children. But the residents who live nearby know that house prices have been affected."