Examination of Witnesses (Questions 108
TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2001
108. Good afternoon. Could I repeat the warning
I gave this morning? I would be obliged if you could switch your
mobile phones off. It will not help in any way for us to have
interruptions of that nature. Can I welcome the gentlemen from
the Local Government Association? Perhaps you could introduce
(Councillor House) My name is Councillor Keith House.
I am the chair of the Local Government Association Planning Executive.
(Councillor Bailey) I am Councillor Brian
Bailey. I am deputy chairman.
(Mr Joyce) I am Phil Joyce, Leeds City Council. I
am an adviser on telecoms matters for the LGA.
(Mr Jones) I am Graham Jones. I am the chief planning
officer for the London Borough of Harrow.
109. Perhaps we could start off with what has
become the precautionary approach. One of the things we found
this morning when we were discussing it is that there is an involvement
of matters like health here which are normally beyond the direct
considerations that councils would have. Setting aside that issue,
how do you see the requirement for planning permission incorporating
a precautionary approach? Is this something new or have you done
it in other things in the past?
(Mr Joyce) The position is that in most instances,
if planning permission is granted, that is it. There is no opportunity
to revisit it. The Stewart Report makes it very clear in advice
that there is further research to be done and that may well be
done over the next two to three years. If one is to look at it
from a precautionary point of view, one would be looking at potentially
giving perhaps planning permissions for a short period of time
to allow the opportunity to revisit that decision once there is
further evidence and further research done on the health issue.
There is the potential to look at it in that particular way. Temporary
planning permission is not a new thing for planning authorities
or for the planning legislation.
110. You suggest that there should be a time
limit to planning permissions. Could this work in this kind of
area? What about the expense to which a company will go in putting
the mast up? Who would pay for the cost of taking it away, for
example? How would you deal with that?
(Mr Joyce) It is all around the health issue, is it
not, in the sense that the Stewart Report clearly has found favour
in all quarters and has some standing. His advice is that further
research needs to be done. Unless you have some mechanism that
allows you to revisit once you have further information, once
the mast is there, it will be there for some years to come. If
there is further evidence that comes forward that suggests there
is a problem, the issue is then how do you remove that particular
mast, because from the planning point of view you have no locus
to do so.
111. What about the masts which already have
planning permission, which are blots on the landscape? How would
you approach that both in planning terms and political terms,
as elected representatives? How do you address that challenge?
(Councillor House) With difficulty is the obvious
answer. We have to try to resolve the health issue quite early
on in this discussion because the health issues do not sit very
comfortably in the planning system. We, as local government practitioners,
recognise that that is the case. The idea of a certification process,
independently audited before a planning application is submitted,
seems to us to be the best way of isolating the health issues
as part of the precautionary approach before the environmental
issues, which is what the planning system is best geared to deal
with, come into play. Over time, as technology changes and as
the needs of operators change, there must be some likelihood that
that will pick up some of the issues around existing base stations,
existing masts. I suspect that time itself will address some of
the issues around existing locations.
112. As far as the precautionary principle is
applied to this area, it is in respect of health?
(Councillor House) Yes.
113. The rest of it, for you, is just another
planning issue. You take your chances. The officials give advice;
the councillors do what they have to do and if somebody objects
there is an appeal to the Secretary of State. Would that be a
reasonable way of summing it up?
(Councillor House) Yes, but the approach that we are
keen to develop as local authorities is one of recognising that
there does need to be a partnership between local government and
the operators to develop a network and networks which can meet
the needs of industry and the community at large. We see a lot
of campaigns by residents' groups against home masts; yet those
are the very people who are using the mobile phones. There is
a tension here. We need to recognise that. Trying to compartmentalise
the health issue by having clear guidelines that are accepted
and understood, isolated from a planning system which people have
a broad understanding of, gives a process which can be widely
understood. In that sense, yes, these would become like any other
114. Do local authorities want to be in a position
to refuse planning permission for masts simply because of perceived
health risks, even if they meet these ICNIRP guidelines? Would
you not be overturned on appeal if you only had health as a ground?
(Councillor Bailey) I do not think local authorities
would want to oppose just on perceived health grounds or refuse.
What we are looking for is clear statements and guidelines nationally
set between government and the industry which the installations
would meet. We would want to be sure and have evidence presented
in every case that they did do that. Dealing with health issues
is not unfamiliar for local authorities. It is the case with incinerators
or refinery operations where there are controls on emissions and
all sorts of things. Evidence in the planning application there
would be put forward that it did meet the statutory requirements
in that case. We are looking for the same sort of system here
and the installation would meet the nationally agreed guidelines.
Setting those guidelines I do not think is a matter for local
authorities. That is a matter for the industry and government
nationally because there is a whole range of health issues which
we are not perhaps directly competent to deal with.
(Mr Jones) I think there is still a fair way to go
in our experience to allay the health fears. That issue has to
be tackled. You raise the issue of where we have got to as far
as appeals are concerned. In my authority, we have won appeals
recently on residents' perception of fear of the health issues.
That is, in my experience, something which so far the evidence
from the industry and from government has not allayed. It is still
a very real issue amongst the public at large, particularly now
as the technology is changing. What we are seeing is a lot more
microcell installation in residential areas. That is a cause of
real concern to our residents in our borough. From the requests
we have had on the basis of the appeals that we have won, I think
it is pretty widespread because we have had inquiries from across
the country about the details of these appeal decisions.
(Councillor Bailey) I was not meaning to say that
perceived health fears were not serious concerns in people's minds.
In relation to the planning budget, the recommendation of the
Stewart Report was that there should be a three year programme
to resolve these as far as possible and to jointly fund it.
115. The government should issue national guidelines,
or stronger than that?
(Mr Joyce) It should remove the uncertainty from both
local authorities, operators and the public. At the moment we
are in limbo in the sense that there has been draft guidance and
consultation has been carried out which was completed in October
of last year. Everybody is now waiting for the final guidance
to come out. There are two elements to the health issue. One is
on the physiological side of things which clearly can be dealt
with through some kind of system of licensing perhaps; but then
there is the psychological issue of people, particularly residents,
who are living with a mast at the end of the garden or in the
street, wherever they go, and that again was picked up by Stewart.
That is an issue that starts to impinge on the planning aspects
of looking at such things as residential amenity and the appearance
of masts and their proximity to residential properties.
116. There was this letter that Nick Raynsford
wrote on 29 June last year which was mentioned this morning and
which we had referred to in the evidence. He wrote to local authorities
stating that meeting ICNIRP guidelines would be enough. Presumably,
that may have been to deal with the interregnum period while a
new PPG8 emerges. What is your view about the new PPG8? Should
that cover it or would the government have to take more action
than reading through that guidance?
(Councillor House) PPG8 is the key document that we
are waiting for to give us the clarity in dealing with these issues
that is currently lacking. The letter that was sent out by Nick
Raynsford last June to all council leaders was of some help in
that regard but it was not backed up by the PPG. We want that
PPG issued quickly because we believe it is in the best interests
of local communities and the industry. The uncertainty does make
life very difficult. At the moment, we have a different process
for this kind of development, as opposed to just about any other
development and this raises concerns in itself to people in local
communities. They do not understand the process. The concept of
having an agreed system of regulation which could well be meeting
the guidelines, as long as that is independently auditeda
body like the NRPB could be a suitable body to do thatseems
to us to be a good, constructive route forward, but it has to
be within the context of this development needing planning permission
in the same way as any other development.
117. What about consulting health authorities?
The Stewart Report suggested it and your response in October last
year suggested that. How would that work? Do you think they have
something to offer in determining these applications?
(Councillor House) Potentially. As the position is
at the moment, there is the expectation that guidelines will be
in place and those will become effectively a precondition of the
planning applications, but local authorities can still take health
issues into account in determining planning issues. The health
authority would seem to us to be the appropriate body to give
advice on health related issues, given that most local authorities
are not in a position to assess these things in a comprehensive
and effective way. As a statutory consultee, the health authority
could be in a position to fulfil that role. However, it is messy.
If there are clear national guidelines that, having met the standard,
that will be accepted as long as it is independently audited,
that should be seen to meet the health test in the vast majority
118. You would not need to consult the health
authority if the guidelines were?
(Councillor House) Simply looking at it from a regulatory
point of view, no.
119. Do you know details of emissions in an
application, presuming that the guidelines were as required and
the information is not of any practical value to you in the planning
sense? Would you need those details or would certification be
(Mr Jones) If there was a clear certification system,
that would probably mean that we did not have to have the emissions,
although I suspect that it would be welcomed if we had both so
that we could see what the emissions were and then we could judge
for ourselves as well. It is the question of transparency in terms
of what information is available to the public. Having that information
and being in possession of a certification as well would be the
ideal solution. Otherwise, it does lead to questions about how
near is the limit and so on.
(Councillor Bailey) I support that. I think we ought
to have that information because it is important that in a local
authority area you can build up a map of an overall understanding
of this. The Stewart Report did say that in sensitive locations
such as round schools that ought to be absolutely clear. There
is no reason for hiding it.
(Mr Joyce) The public need to be reassured and have
access to that information if they have a doubt about a particular
matter so that they can get that information quite easily. Secondly,
that test should not be done by the operator; it should be done
independently to provide some substance in terms of faith for