Examination of Witness (Questions 80 -
TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2001
80. What about masts on top of buildings? You
then get into other kinds of issues. You say you can understand
the ones on the ground needing planning permission but what about
the other concerns?
(Mr Haslam) If you deal with the health issues by
national type approval, then there should be no reason in principle
why small masts on roofs should not be subject to permitted development
rights. Our view is that you should have full planning permission
or permitted development consent and abandon the prior notification
system. Those which do not need consent are clear. The local authority
is not involved. Those that do need consent need consent in the
81. This is a slightly tangential point but
I have a constituent who wishes to get access to Sky Digital and
he can do that only if a tree, on which there is a preservation
order in his garden, is chopped down. How do you see that sort
of issue being resolved, particularly in areas where it is going
to be very difficult to roll-out terrestrial digital television
and the Government, at the same time, are saying that that will
be the way forward?
(Mr Haslam) The problem with the tree relates to tree
preservation orders and access to the satellite television network.
But one possibility would be to move the antennae further down
the garden, out of the line of the tree. There is no reason why
that cannot be done.
(Mr Wilbraham) It is always a balance between private
requirements and the public interest in keeping the tree.
82. Do you think that there should be guidelines
from the Government about that?
(Mr Haslam) I think most planning authorities are
quite capable of making decisions on those sorts of issues.
83. Do you envisage the operation of the planning
controls as being expensive and time-consuming for local authorities,
for the planning authorities and if so, would you imagine that
the fees for such applications might be increased?
(Mr Haslam) It should not be if there is good will
on both sides and if authorities are not inundated with literally
hundreds of applications at one time. If the health issue is taken
out, then there should be no reason why the local authority could
not deal with non-health issues in just the same way as any other
planning application. But whilst you have the health issue as
an uncertainty, there are always going to be occasions where,
under pressure from local residents, authorities will be seeking
expert advice on the emissions or whatever in relation to the
particular proposal before it and that, inevitably, is an expensive
(Mr Wilbraham) I said earlier that there are two aspects
of the health issue. One is the fear of adverse consequences.
Our concern is that unless that matter is addressed, it will just
continue as a running sore with applications and will slow down
the handling of all applications. In our view, the way to address
that is that the authority which issues a type approval, as we
suggest, should also monitor to ensure that masts which are build
or, indeed, masts which are already there do comply with the requirements.
If there is a much, much greater public awareness that there is
an independent agency checking that what is said is going to happen
actually has happened, then I think that that question of fear
will start to reduce. I understand that the RCA already has a
monitoring role but I think that the amount of communication about
that enforcement and monitoring role is very lacking at the moment.
It needs to be much more high profile because that fear has got
to be allayed.
84. We have heard a lot about anxiety and stress.
You are dealing with planning applications all the time. Are anxiety
and stress conditions a feature of the planning process in matters
other than telecommunications masts?
(Mr Haslam) Any controversial planning application
has an element of stress, for example emissions from an incinerator.
In my experience, people often perceive a problem to be much greater
than it actually is. When I have been involved, as I have on many
occasions, in highly contentious issues, those that have been
built seldom generate the fears which are expressed at application
stage. There is no doubt that, on occasions, planning is a very
high profile activity. People like me sit in the middle of opposing
views. That is why I have grey hairs.
(Mr Birch) But many of them do not have this perceived
health risk. In Guildford, we dealt with an incinerator proposal
recently. The main concern among residents, I have received something
like 28,000 letters of objection for the incinerator, is all to
do with health. The Environment Agency says that it is state of
the art, the best in the world. Nobody believes them any more.
All the petitioners say, "We do not believe it. It is the
health of our children. It is our health. We just do not want
the thing". One of the previous witnesses mentioned BSE.
We are getting it across a whole range of issues nowadays. It
is not quite the same as traditional planning, where we tended
to deal with buildings, with roads and environmental issues. People
have said, "We don't want a supermarket", but when it
is actually built, people say it is working properly; traffic
is still flowing; food can be bought and so on. Those tend to
be controversial issues. This one generates so much uncertainty
because people simply do not know what is going to happen, so
it is fear of the unknown.
85. On the other hand, fear of the unknown will
still exist if you get the kind of guidelines that you are suggesting.
Taking the health issue out of the date, Mr Haslam, Mr Birch is
saying that even if you do that, you have what I think theologians
call "invincible ignorance" on the part of some people.
They will never believe it?
(Mr Haslam) But is not part of it hyping things up?
As my colleague said just now, work is being done by people like
the RCA which is not getting out into the public domain. I suspect
that there is a major education process required. What is actually
going on at the moment? People perceive fear and it can be whipped
up, and I have seen it happen on many occasions. It may be that
we need now a rather more rational approach to dispel people's
86. You are not politicians. Your political
masters are subject to the electorate. Do you think that there
is a danger that people might start running scared and so you
will get planning refusals on the basis that they just do not
want the hassle as elected representatives?
(Mr Birch) There is lots of evidence that that is
happening already. There is evidence right across the country
that members are doing that all the time. Fear is whipped up and
they will refuse the applications.
87. On permitted development rights, what is
your view about the prior approval procedure?
(Mr Haslam) Not a lot, to be blunt. We do not like
it. It confuses the public. It does not give the public a genuine
opportunity to influence decisions. We find it a thoroughly unsatisfactory
process which is why are recommending or urging that we have a
combination of full planning permission and straightforward permitted
development and take out the prior notification altogether.
(Mr Wilbraham) One of the problems with prior notification
is that it has to go to the top of the queue irrespective of what
the other matters to be dealt with are. They have to respond within
a time scale, otherwise, the permission is deemed to be granted.
And so, as a system, it simply is unsatisfactory.
88. Do you think that permitted development
rights should be retained for existing sites or buildings?
(Mr Wilbraham) You mean existing masts?
(Mr Wilbraham) Those were already built either under
planning permission deemed to have been granted by the GPDO or
by specific planning permission. The only way to remove them would
be to rescind or revoke that planning permission, which would
involve compensation. I cannot see that happening. I think we
are generally looking to the future. But if the underlying question
is how do you address masts which may not meet current guidelines,
then the answer to that is through the monitoring and enforcement
by the RCA under this type approval that Mr Haslam has suggested.
That would go right back to any mast which is now operational,
irrespective of when it was built. If that happens, then I think
it will give the public confidence and the local authorities confidence
and they would attribute less weight to irrational fears, if I
can put it that way, when the planning applications are determined.
90. You used the term development rights as
a kind of lever in the sense of trying to encourage site sharing
and things like that on existing sites?
(Mr Wilbraham) Yes. If, for example, you were to say
that one company could put another antenna on an existing mast
under development rights rather than go through a full planning
application, I am sure that that would be a gentle pressure, at
least, on the industry to get together.
(Mr Birch) There are two issues with mast sharing.
One is amenity and sometimes mast sharing is possibly only where
you have got a thicker lattice-type mast which in terms of amenity
might be a bad thing because quite often shared masts are great
big ugly things so you do not actually want them on amenity grounds.
The second issue, which we do not really understand, is the health
issue of the cumulative effect where you have a whole series of
masts clustered together and whether something happens there which
is more than just having one plus one plus one. So I think there
are issues to be looked at. It is not simple, the mast-sharing
91. I am just wondering where you are going
with all this. Do you think that the new PPG8 is a crucial factor?
(Mr Haslam) That is going to be revised and in draft
it makes it clear that the final version will depend on decisions
to be taken by government on the exact issue that we are talking
about today: should planning permission be required for aspects
of the current system which currently are covered through the
advance notice procedure. So if our view prevails that all new
ground-based masts should require full permission, the PPG will
be suitably amended to reflect that. That is made clear in the
consultation draft. As the draft is written, we are happy with
it with that proviso that it will inevitably change when decisions
are made as to what is going to happen to the fundamental issue
of planning permission.
92. Your view is that the Government should
give national guidance on health issues, to be separate?
(Mr Haslam) More than guidance, we think that there
should be some national certification. For example, electrical
equipment which you buy has been certified to be okay. If you
buy a car, it has been type certified. It is MOT'd every three
years to check the emissions. If the emissions are high, the car
is failed. We see no reason why that kind of philosophy should
not apply to emissions coming from masts. They should be checked
on a regular basis.
93. That should be done by an independent agency?
(Mr Haslam) Yes, nationally, yes.
94. Is your view in the paper to the DETR on
the Government's proposals that they push the problem on to the
appropriate local planning authorities and, no doubt, in due course,
the planning inspectorate and back to the Secretary of State.
Is that your view?
(Mr Haslam) That is what is happening at the moment.
We have had these three decisions where inspectors have refused
appeals on health grounds. That will no doubt generate a momentum
across the country and the inspectorate will get more and more
appeals. I have no doubt about that in my mind at all. We believe
that the system is better addressed, as I said before, by a national
type approval to take the health issue, in effect, away from local
95. What about this idea of an ombudsman?
(Mr Haslam) There is a local authority ombudsman so
if a local authority does not act properly, it is subject to the
ombudsman. I see no reason why there should not be a similar ombudsman
for the telecommunications industry.
96. So it is a separate process? Mast Action
UK were in favour of that and they see it as being a separate
assessment of this issue?
(Mr Haslam) I am assuming that we are talking about
an industry ombudsman for the mobile telecommunications industry
not to compete with but to run alongside the local authority ombudsman
and the parliamentary ombudsman because there are separate ombudsmen
for the different activities.
97. Would that not draw out the process?
(Mr Haslam) Not if follows the usual practice. A reference
to the ombudsman is after a decision has been made, when something
has happened which is seen to be unsatisfactory. In the local
authority ombudsman situation, the ombudsman cannot actually change
a decision. He can simply criticise if things have been done badly
and recommend financial penalties but he cannot actually change
98. What about prior site selection criteria,
is that realistic?
(Mr Haslam) It all helps. As my colleague was saying
just now, each site should be considered on its own merits. Whilst
you can set out general criteria, whenever a planning application
or a proposal is submitted there is almost inevitably going to
be someone who raises an objection against it. That is life, I
99. This business about clear up the health
issue providing people do not object, and they are likely to do
so, and we could maybe have it near a school provided it is not
too near, but some folk do not want them at all, are we putting
our hand into quicksilver here, we can never get a grip on anything?
(Mr Haslam) Can I use the analogy of the car. There
is not widespread public fear that cars driving on the streets
are hugely dangerous. People accept there is a danger but they
accept that the emissions from the cars are controlled and after
three years a car is MOT-ed, every year once it is three years
old. I see no reason why that should not happen with mobile phones.
Once the public have got confidence that the emissions issue has
been looked at the current furore will, I am sure, die down. It
is lack of public confidence that is the biggest problem at the
moment and we have seen it with BSE and we are seeing it at the
moment with the foot and mouth issue. There is a public lack of
confidence in the scientific advice being given to Government
on some major national issues.
(Mr Birch) I think there is a feeling too that the
whole system has been skewed to give undue benefit to the telecommunications
industry with prior notification. Certainly residents I speak
to do not see any requirement for that, "other developers
do not get this special treatment, why should telecommunications?"
I think bringing everything within planning control would go a
long way to at least putting everybody on a level playing field.