Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2001
180. What about the issue of the amount of equipment
you get on buildings? Do you think that the numbers are outdated?
Can I just say, as we all have, I have an example at the edge
of my constituency at a place called Quarndon a Severn Trent water
towerI think they have just disposed of ita 100
foot concrete structure. Some of the people around there have
got concerns about health issues but quite frankly, irrespective
of whether you have got views on the health issues, the actual
view of the building is just horrendous. There is that much kit
and ironwork and superstructure on there, the ground is littered
with cabins, equipment cabins, there is noise emanating from there
at night. It seems to me that the whole thing is something of
a mess. There is the prospect of more applications coming in from
the companies you represent to go on to that site as well. Do
you think that the limits on what can go on buildings are outdated
and want revising perhaps downwards? Aesthetically it is a mess
(Mr Innes) If I try not to discuss the aesthetics,
because I do not know the particular site, but look simply at
the legislation that currently exists, where more than three operators
wish to use a site in any event the site will be the subject of
a full planning application under current legislation. The opportunity
to discuss the visual amenity on proposed legislation exists today
and equally if the numbers of antennae, size of antennae, are
greater than a certain limit in the current process, it is already
the subject of full planning. It may be that if we analyse any
particular site that some sites can be developed to a limit that
perhaps seems beyond the bounds of common sense, but I think generally
the rules have worked well. Maybe it is incumbent on the industry
to persuade government and local authorities to allow those sites
to be more developed by looking at their own installations to
see if they can be improved.
181. I do not think in the case I cite it has
worked well but that is a personal view. Just coming to the potential
disadvantages of site sharing and mast sharing, there was a French
report that was produced taking a view that a proliferation of
masts could lead to a higher intensity of emissions and therefore
from a health point of view that may not be desirable. They are
arguing on the one hand for the need for mast sharing, but what
are your views on the French report?
(Mr May) I think the key thing is to ensure that any
installation that has multiple operators on it still complies
with all the ICNIRP guidelines in total and that is the position
that we take with those multiple installations.
(Mr Short) I think the French view generally was highlighting
that mast sharing was not a panacea. Not only are we going to
comply with international guidelines, we want to make sure that
whatever is put in place is suitable for the environment as well.
We also need to take into account non-cellular interests. Clearly
the majority of the discussion today is about mobile and cellular,
but the reality is that any changes to site practices and site
sharing needs to take into account a variety of telecommunications
applications. I do not know the particular site you were referring
to earlier on
182. It has got everything on it, police, fire,
microwave dishes, you name it.
(Mr Short) One of the real issues when it comes to
reviewing planning scenarios is saying does this affect just mobile
or a range of telecommunications infrastructure and the consequent
effect, not just on the environment and public, but a range of
users and competitors in this country. We feel strongly and passionately
about infrastructure being handled in a consistent way not just
for mobile but a range of telecommunications services.
183. Do you think that if the Government goes
down the road of removing this permitted development arrangement
and full planning permission is required, that there is a good
case for local authorities saying they will require some proof
if an application comes in for a non-shared mast that all the
avenues for mast sharing have been taken into account rather than
just relying upon the industry saying "We cannot do it. It
could not happen. The technology is not right"? Surely, there
needs to be some proof positive arrangement for local authorities?
(Mr Innes) I refer to the undertakings we are giving
and one of the undertakings is to work up a standard format of
application with support material with the local authority bodies,
and it is likely that some level of proof will form part of that
standard application. I think the answer has to be as an industry
if the local authorities find it useful we will provide it. An
understanding of proof also has some understanding of the technical
requirements and operating parameters of the networks which perhaps
is not something that is there within the local authorities today,
so it has to be a level of proof that also involves a level of
trust. Working with the local authorities we would hope to develop
that level of trust so that the proof is there as part of the
standard application. The answer is, yes, if they feel they require
that level of information, they ask for it today and are given
that today in the form of plots of coverage.
184. How can you address as an industry people's
cynicism in that although it could be said that these are fine,
warm wards at the moment about what you intend to do in the future,
it has been said to me, and I am sure it has been said to yourselves
as well, as an industry you have trampled over the sensitivities
of local communities and masts have been slapped down here and
there despite huge protests from people on health grounds and
aesthetic grounds. You have got on with it and you have had the
power to do it and you have used those powers pretty ruthlessly.
How do you counteract cynicism in the future that people might
have about how you deal with that?
(Mr Innes) May I relate to the present by saying that
over 90 per cent of current applications in the environment we
are facing today go through with little or no concern being raised.
So we are talking about a fairly small sample of sites that give
cause for concern and those are the sites that we clearly need
to address with communities as part of the strategies we have
such that if there is no great public concern because there has
been that consultation and understanding (which does not always
give rise to acceptance) then we will be seen to have done our
job, so I think the cynicism will fall away.
(Mr Dunn) We are all very aware of the reputational
risk to our companies and that is very important to us. If there
is cynicism I think that is the clearest answer from my point
of view; we are interested in the good name of our companies and
we want to maintain that good name so we need to get that right.
185. I was just going to say I am interested
in what you said, Mr Innes, because again not very far from me
is an issue of a mast where there has been a lot of controversy.
When the mast was put up it was over 15 metres high, an enforcement
order was taken by the local authority, and they just came along
and replaced that mast with one which happened to meet the requirements
of 15 metres, but which does not meet the objections of the people
in that locality. That was an opportunity, I would have thought,
to get it out of the area into a slightly less sensitive area
and you did not take it.
(Mr Innes) I do not know the circumstances of your
particular example, but clearly as an industry we do need from
a representational point of view to take account of those type
of opportunities and if we have not been the best we need to do
186. I think you have already touched on the
use of public authorities' and utilities' buildings and Vodafone
have suggested that should be mandatory. Is that the industry's
view as a whole that public utilities' buildings need to be used?
(Mr Short) We need to classify the types of public
buildings sensitively. Again we do not want to come across with
lots of panaceas here, but when we see that the former British
Gas and BT are making their sites available we see little reason
why other national utilities do not follow the same line. Maybe
Vodafone should add to that given it was their original comment,
but we broadly support that line.
(Mr May) We were pointing out that there are a number
of structures already are within the environment and skyline suitable
for the sorts of installations that we want to install and adding
our installations to those structures, be they lamp-posts, road
signs or whatever, would minimise the impact that we have on the
environment. We would just appreciate some help in making sure
that all those opportunities are available to the industry. A
lot of them belong to the previously nationalised utilities so
we are just making a suggestion to improve the number of solutions
available to the industry.
187. Why should it be utilities and not engineering
firms or other bodies? Is it just because they are easy targets?
(Mr May) We simply alighted upon them as having appropriate
sorts of structures that would be suitable which already impinge
on the skyline or the environment rather than just trying to be
broad and talk about buildings in general or industrial premises
188. What about the Highways Agency, do you
have problems with them if you want to site along roads or their
(Mr Innes) I think it is fair to say that the whole
industry is keen to work with the Highways Agency in establishing
a network of sites that could be shared or minimised, depending
on how we decide to approach it, on the trunk road infrastructure
within their control, and it has been keen for a while.
189. Obviously the big thing about public buildings
is schools. We were talking to Mast Action earlier this morning,
and it was certainly highlighted in the Stewart Report itself
about schools and the vulnerability of children. Do you have an
industry view on that?
(Mr Dolan) The whole issue of schools has obviously
been of concern to people in the community who are directly affected
by it. It certainly occupied quite a bit of the time of the Stewart
inquiry as it went around the country in its various public meetings
and it was asked by many people to recommend a moratorium on future
building of radio base stations on schools. However, the Stewart
Report itself directly addresses the issue and says it appears
to be an easy quick-fix but it is not, it sends an entirely wrong
message. You have referred earlier today in questioning witnesses
in relation to hospitals. What about other facilities where people
are where there are densities? Children do not just come to school,
they live other lives as well. At the end of the day we have a
situation here where the science as reviewed by the Stewart Inquiry
and also by a number of other bodies in other countries and also
by the World Health Organisation is all saying "we have looked
at all the evidence and we cannot see that there actually is a
problem, however there does need to be some more research and
we need to have some of those questions answered, so let us adopt
a precautionary approach until we have a better feel for it".
That is coming off the base of effectively what is a risk of a
risk, if you want to use that term. It is in that context that
the Stewart Report made its recommendations in relation to the
beam of greatest intensity. Clearly in future development as part
of the consultation process there will have to be active involvement
of the school community, both the owner of the school and the
school community itself. Ultimately if that whole community is
saying to the operator "yes, we are quite happy for the mast
to come on the school" then that will be a co-operative decision.
What is interesting in the context of the Radiocommunications
Agency audit is that already of those undertaken, again it underscores
how well within the ICNRIP guidelines exposures are and also we
understand there has not been a great take-up from existing schools
to have that audit undertaken. It is clearly a sensitive issue
and one that needs to be handled carefully by all concerned. I
think the RA audit is a key issue as far as this is concerned.
190. What about some local authorities who have
said that their land cannot be used for base stations, do you
have a view on that?
(Mr Innes) Only a view that it limits the supply of
sites to the industry and to the public at large in terms of the
best locations for base stations and it may not be wholly appropriate
to have such policies. But the industry has to work within that,
those frameworks exist, and we will look at all the alternative
sites. One of the questions that arose earlier was how do we show
the sites we have looked at to local authorities. It may be that
in a planning applications the reason for applying for a site
is that a local authority site was not available to us. We are
sometimes proceeding with sites that are not our first choice
where embargoes exist. It is a limitation of supply but we have
to work within it. Like any other landlord, including schools,
they can say no and we have to honour that.
191. Are you happy with the ICNIRP guidelines
because obviously some older base stations presumably do not comply
with these? Is there anything you can do about that, or are doing?
(Mr Dolan) As I indicated earlier, when that recommendation
was announced on 11 May of last year, the industry immediately
said that all future base stations would be built to that standard,
but the reality is that most of the existing ones as far as the
public are concerned already comply. The industry has put in place
a review of existing base station sites and to retrofit as necessary
and that is well under way.
192. You are offering a certificate of compliance
with ICNIRP guidelines. Who will the certificate be issued by?
(Mr Dolan) That certificate will be issued by the
operator and addressed to the local planning authority.
193. You have an objection, do you, to local
planning authorities asking for details of frequencies, or do
you not have an objection?
(Mr Innes) I am not aware that if it is asked for
that that information has ever been refused to be given.
194. You would provide that information to them
if they wanted it?
(Mr Innes) They can discover that information through
the Radiocommunications Agency database anyway.
(Mr Short) We are not trying to hide anything at all.
If anything, we are trying to be as co-operative with the planners
as possible. If they need the information we need to find ways
within the ten commitments of providing that.
195. Are you unhappy about the idea of exclusion
zones and minimum distances?
(Mr Short) I do not think we are unhappy. John, do
you want to cover that?
(Mr May) I think the definition of exclusion zones
sounds a little bit dramatic. These are relatively short distances
but the term creates the wrong impression. I think that is all
covered within the ICNRP guidelines to make sure that we comply
Mrs Perham: That is all I have.
Chairman: Thank you very much, gentlemen. I
think we have covered virtually everything but if there is anything
we have forgotten we will be in touch with you. Can I thank you
for your frankness this afternoon, it has been extremely helpful
and it has rounded off a useful day for us. We will be publishing
evidence and other information in the near future. Thank you very