Select Committee on Trade and Industry Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Annex

HEALTH ISSUES

  A.1  Section 2.9 on health issues indicates the Government will continue to ensure that issues, such as health, are properly reflected in the regulatory framework.

  A.2  The Government appears to place confidence in the existing regulatory framework but favours the adoption of certain recommendations from the Stewart Group Report, several of which bear directly upon the planning process.

  A.3  Crown Castle has responded on the consultation papers on planning and telecommunications issued in England and Wales and will shortly respond on the papers relating to Scotland and Northern Ireland. (Full copies of our responses can be made available on request).

  A.4  In its responses, Crown Castle has expressed strong concern at the blurring of the vital principle of non-duplication between separate spheres of regulation, ie planning and health and safety. Crown Castle contends that the future development and delivery of advanced telecommunications in the UK will continue to be at risk if this principle is compromised. The need for clarity is required because of confusion about the precautionary principle as enshrined in the Maastrict Treaty (and reinterpreted in the Stewart Group report), the weight to be given to public perceptions of risk and the implications of the Human Rights Act 2000.

  A.5  In planning cases we have encountered, the thrust of the objection has been that the granting of planning permission for telecommunications development would introduce a health risk for nearby residents and thereby infringe human rights. We have pointed out in each case that this argument is flawed; the protection of public safety obtains not from the planning system but from health and safety legislation that applies regardless.

  A.6  Current scientific evidence indicates overwhelmingly that the risks associated with telecommunications installations are negligible, if emissions are within the guidelines. Radio frequency assessments conducted by Crown Castle, and the NRPB evidence to the Stewart Group published in its report NRPB-R321, demonstrate that the degree of ICNIRP compliance is in every case within the guidelines, by a safety factor of hundreds, if not thousands.

  A.7  However, public debate, catalysed by selective interpretation of Stewart, and conducted with scant regard for factual scientific data, has created a climate of public concern. The public is highly sensitised to health scares. It has been easy for individuals and pressure groups to ignore the subtlety of Stewart's recommendations, to abuse the precautionary principle and to demand the effective curtailment of telecommunications development.

  A.8  Overall, the upshot has been to encourage certain planning authorities to believe that health and safety issues constitute grounds to refuse planning permission as a matter of law and policy.

  A.9  In summary, the existing regulations taken in conjunction with the confusion of the policy framework are a recipe for chaos. The scale of the problem will become apparent as nationwide 3G rollout generates thousands of applications. This now represents the single biggest threat to the successful roll out of the 3G networks and further development required for digital television and radio broadcasting. In turn, the issue threatens the attainment of the Government's core objective to make the UK the best place in the world to do electronic business by the year 2002.

  A.10  The issue is not one of health and safety, but of public confidence. Crown Castle's experience is that public confidence has been undermined by the lack of visibility of health and safety controls. In the public's view, the planning system is the sole mechanism acting to prevent what many regard as a great health risk being allowed near their houses, because planning is the only visible control. Within that context, operator information relating to health and safety is often mistrusted.

  A.11  Crown Castle believes the Government should act to restore public confidence by providing visibility to health and safety controls whilst publicly maintaining the principle of non-duplication in the planning process. To this end, we would recommend the establishment of a new health and safety certification body for telecommunications operators and all communications infrastructure providers.

  A.12  We suggest this process should operate in similar fashion to ISO9000 Quality Assurance, requiring the establishment and maintenance of approved procedures that would be designed to ensure compliance with health and safety guidelines relating to radio emissions. Certification would include sample audits of existing sites. Following certification, internal and external auditing should take place with measures for dealing with any non-compliance, the ultimate sanction being removal of certification.

  A.13  Once certified, any planning applications should be supported with a copy of the certificate to demonstrate satisfactory compliance with health and safety guidelines.

  A.14  Such an approach would have the added benefit of avoiding the unnecessary duplication of effort required in providing site-specific information in every case, which is a time-consuming and unnecessary exercise in terms of actual health and safety.

  A.15  A certification process could be established without requiring significant additional funding through the use of existing public agencies. The Health and Safety Executive would be the logical certification body. An application for certification could be subject to a fee to reflect the administration costs involved. The system should reduce the volume of individual queries raised by local authorities—a key consideration in view of the thousands of applications to be generated by 3G rollout in the next few years.

  A.16  The Radiocommunications Agency already carries out random audits and that existing process could be subsumed into the certification process.

  A.17  Crown Castle hopes the Government will explore this proposal and would welcome being included in a Working Group, together with Mobile Telecommunications Advisory Group (MTAG) and other interested parties, to explore its feasibility. In summary, the key benefits are:

    —  The Government would be seen to be acting decisively on this issue of great public concern.

    —  The potential for the existing problem to become a major political issue would be defused.

    —  Health and safety controls would be given greater visibility to a public demanding greater reassurance.

    —  Third party certification would create trust and credible information on this topic.

    —  The principle of non-duplication between controls could be reinstated without criticism that the Stewart Group recommendations are being ignored.

    —  The idea is comparatively simple and is easy and quick to introduce.

    —  The proposal should not require significant additional public resources, as it would utilise existing Government agencies. The cost of any limited additional resources would be insignificant compared to the costs of doing nothing.

    —  The potential for the issue of health and safety unnecessarily delaying the deployment of 3G networks and their considerable benefits, with the consequential adverse economic impact, would be minimised.

    —  The Government's core objective to make the UK the best place in the world to do business electronically by the year 2002 would receive a vital boost.

6 March 2001


 
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