Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 66)



  60. I believe that four or five of us around this table could give you constituency cases which started years ago which might have been as a consequence of a bending of the rules or an oversight in relation to the rules. A local authority is then faced with the problem of whether they should take on an important multinational telecommunications company and fight with them through all the courts of the land to get something changed, because the company would doubtless be looking for some kind of compensation in due course. I will not recite the details but suffice it to say that I know somebody who got a replacement mast which was rather more intrusive and offensive than the one he had previously. For the local authority to take on the offending company would probably involve them in spending half their annual budget, once the legal fees had been paid. How do we deal with something like that?
  (Mr Meyer) You probably know why the Tandridge case was brought by Mr Al-Fayed. He did it to expose the fact that nobody had any money to take on a planning application by a network operator close to somebody's home, not his home. It was 80 metres from a home with three small children. He did it because he thought at the time that somebody ought to have the courage to try and show what the problem was. He got it exposed. The planning process was flawed but he did not win because the judge probably knew who he was, I think, but, as may be, the judge refused to exercise his discretion. But that is not the point. The point is that of course it is difficult for a planning authority but these two decisions which I do not know if you have got, but I really think that they make extremely interesting reading because they are so different from planning inspectors' appeals decisions which we have all read time and time again but could never understand because they always seem to reverse the local planning authority's refusal. These ones do not do that and they explain why. It is the explanation why which is interesting. Can I hand them in?

  Chairman: We will take them but I think we have got one of them.
  (Mr Meyer) They are very interesting. I think you have to use the planning procedures to get masts on the right site, perhaps with mast sharing as required but that very rarely happens. You have to look at different considerations.

  61. Does your organisation look into other technical facilities? Some of us were in Scandinavia recently and saw the next stage, which could be something the size of an A3 sheet.
  (Mr Meyer) Yes, I am meant to understand some of these things but you have to understand that I am a lawyer; I am not a scientist. But if you have done it for four years, if you are any good, you have learned a bit of it. There is no doubt that there are many different ways of doing it but you have got to have changes in the planning rules here to achieve that. That is what was, on 11th May, one of the main Stewart recommendations. The Government said that they were minded to accept it. The consultation went out. Clearly, in part of PPG8 as revised, paragraph 78 probably was incorrect and it reflected totally the Minister's letter of 29th June, which clearly is not correct unless you interpret it in accordance with the correction. It is all very difficult but because it is difficult, it does not means that you cannot get it right for the future. I think your point, sir, as to how deal with it backwards, in retrospect, I think it is probably impossible But you can make a further roll-out, the 3G roll-out, carried out in a less unacceptable way, perhaps.

Mr Chope

  62. On the 3G roll-out, would you condemn any local authority that had a blanket refusal on any more masts permission, for example, because that is certainly inconsistent with being able to roll out 3G?
  (Mr Meyer) I have never been very much in favour of banning anything. I think you have got to look at each case properly and fairly. A large part of some county councils taking decisions is because they felt very frustrated that things happen under GPDO and they go through on prior approval notification. There is very little control and everybody has been effectively disenfranchised. When the Telecommunications Act 1984 set it all in train, we were living in a rather different world. I think people expect now to have some involvement in their lives and their children's lives. There is no doubt that the 200 groups that Mast Action UK represent are scared for their children. Whether they are rightly scared is anybody's guess. But you will only find that out in 10 years time.

  63. Have you spent any time addressing the issue of the Tetra?
  (Mr Meyer) I am not qualified to do so but it sounds as though it is far worse.

  64. That would be my submission on the basis of the evidence. It is far worse and it is interesting that you have not really got to grips with that one yet?
  (Mr Meyer) I think that nobody in the public at large understands what Tetra is. It is relating to emergency services. It was very interesting to note that, I think, two weeks ago it was referred to DERA to find out whether it was safe because the police are so scared of what its effects might be. It sounds again as though perhaps somebody got it wrong


  65. Can I ask you about this problem of retrospection because in some ways, the most worrying masts are the ones that we already have. Do you campaign against existing masts; namely, those in relation to which you now realise something should have been done? Have you had any success?
  (Ms Mathew) Yes, several of our groups have got existing masts. They are not all new planning applications. We have had some success where the group concerned and the operator have managed to find another site and actually move the mast. The three that I can think of off the top of my head were all schools and they were moved away from schools. But it still remains a huge problem and the general public that have these masts either in a school or at the bottom of their garden are extremely concerned and the stress and anxiety that we hear daily in telephone calls from people is absolutely dreadful. Those people are living in that situation and they do not see the Government taking any action at all to help them out of this situation. There is quite a lot now in the planning system and masts are now being turned down but that does not help the people who have them already.
  (Mr Meyer) There may, possibly, be one or two cases which are in the pipeline to test out whether Article 8 does in fact give you rights about an existing mast.


  66. Thank you very much for coming this morning. If we need any additional information from you, we will be in touch. Thank you.

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