Whitton phone mast set to go up despite school safety fears


3:36pm Thursday 29th August 2002

The plan for a controversial phone mast next to a Whitton school is set to be approved by Richmond upon Thames' planning committee, despite objections from Twickenham's MP and hundreds of parents and residents.

Over 800 people have signed a petition against the mast, planned for an old telephone exchange in Ashdale Close which backs on to St Edmunds School and is close to another.

Vincent Cable, MP for Twickenham has been concerned about the proposed mast, even calling a special debate in Parliament to highlight the worries of parents and residents in the area.

They are fearful of the potential health risks of the mast and a statement on a circular letter, of which 95 individual copies were received states: The proximity to St Edmunds School renders this installation highly controversial.

Given the sensitivity of the positioning of the mast and the level of local opposition we believe that the anxiety caused by the perceived health risks is breaching the human rights of parents, children and local residents'.

Yet, the council planning officer claims that although these perceived health risks can be used as a consideration in deciding applications, the government believes that local planning system is not the place to decide on safeguards.

As far as the council is concerned, as long as the proposed masts pass set guidelines on emissions, they do not have to consider further health implications. He says that to refuse this application on health grounds is a decision that could not be defended.

The officer cites a case in Brixton where an application was refused on the grounds of a perceived health risk. But he says this case cannot be compared and is not a good case for refusal as telephone equipment already exists on the Whitton site.

He said: "In addition, although the school boundary is close, the school building will be over 100m away and the access is from Nelson Road rather than Ashdale Close.

"The presence of a larger array of antennae since 1993 has clearly not deterred parents from sending their children to the nearby school.

"Members may feel that the strength of opposition is sufficient to warrant refusal on perceived health grounds but for the reasons mentioned I would not concur."

Dr Vincent Cable, MP for Twickenham said: "If approved, it will be extremely disappointing as there were major concerns, particularly by the schools and there has been major public concern about this.

"I had a special debate in Parliament about this and got an admission from the minister that health effects could be taken into consideration in concerns. It would be highly improvident if a mast in such a sensitive location was simply waved through by the council.

"We had the school in some detail with developers showed complete lack of concern for the welfare of the school. It would very unfortunate if the council were to accept the official advice as they would be in a good position if they turned it down."

3:36pm Thursday 29th August 2002