Mr Edward McCamley
Fortwilliam Action Committee
C/0 48 Lansdowne Road
6th December 2001
BT Cellnet Ltd
1 Brunel Way
The Fortwilliam Action Committee has lodged a complaint with the Belfast Planning Office concerning the grant of Prior Approval to BT Cellnet for 10metre-monopole and equipment cabinets at 642-644 Antrim Road, Belfast. The Committee has demanded that your proposal be subject to a fresh process of consideration given that Prior Approval was granted eight days before the published closing date for receipt of objections. (The notice of approval is dated the 1st of November when the published closing date for objections was in fact the 9th November)
While we intend to pursue this matter through the proper channels of complaint, we hope that BT Cellnet will act honourably and withdraw from plans to erect the equipment at this site.
The site is less than 150 metres from the gates of two local primary schools and indeed much nearer to the school grounds – it is also close to a nursing home. There is acknowledged risk from these masts for vulnerable groups such as babies and children whose cells are still dividing; the sick and elderly whose immune systems are depressed; those suffering from epilepsy and other neurological conditions.
The Stewart Inquiry recommended a precautionary approach to the siting of masts, especially close to schools – Sir William Stewart has stated that children would be more vulnerable as they have thinner skulls, smaller heads and a still evolving nervous system and brain. Professor Om Gandhi et al, University Utah, showed in the use of mobile handsets, that radiation absorption rates were much higher in children than in adults – at least 50% higher in the heads of five year olds and at least 20% higher in the heads of ten year olds. The Secretary of Education has told schools to limit the use of phones by children and to ensure nearby masts do not send a ‘beam of greatest intensity’ across their land. Dr Hyland has recommended that in the siting of masts “attention should be given to local topography so that in a hilly terrain, there are no homes, schools, hospitals … on a level with the emitting antennae”.
In responding to the Stewart Report, BT stated an undertaking “to adopt a precautionary approach and to comply with the spirit of the Stewart recommendations” – if this statement is to be fulfilled BT Cellnet will abandon plans for this site close to two primary schools and a nursing home. Indeed the Prior Approval (under which BT Cellnet sought to erect this mast) in itself could not be regarded as honouring the precautionary principle –at 10 metres high this mast escapes scrutiny from full planning processes. If the precautionary principle were to be honoured truly in spirit, there would be 500 metre exclusion zones (as in Australia, Sweden, New Zealand and parts of America) and BT Cellnet would not seek to place this equipment “disguised as street-furniture” in the heart of densely populated areas.
BT Cellnet has also stated “we are committed not to install base stations on or near schools without seeking the agreement of the Governors and the PTA or equivalent” – in fact the Government has said that school governors must be consulted on all proposals for new masts on or near a school. Yet the Principals, Governors and PTAs of the two local schools near this site knew nothing of this proposal? – both schools have actively opposed previous applications for masts within the wider area.
Indeed there is a growing resentment amongst local residents that the notice for this planning application was published at the start of the Halloween holiday – that is, a time when many families would be away – residents are starting to question this co-incidence, given that this year the local community has vociferously opposed five such applications from BT Cellnet for masts along a 1 mile stretch of the Antrim Road.
Not only were the schools unaware of BT Cellnet plans but the owner/occupier of 642-644 Antrim Road had not even been consulted – nor were the owner/occupiers of the neighbouring premises and private residences. This is contrary to the Industry’s so-called Ten Commitments that aim to deliver improved consultation with local communities affected by telecommunications equipment. This is also contrary to BT’s statement about the “importance of communication, participatory processes and two-way dialogue with the public in decision-making under scientific uncertainty”. It is ironic that a company specialising in communications seems unable to communicate with schools, a nursing home and Upper Antrim Road residents.
Bt Cellnet must be aware of the level of opposition amongst the local community, given the objections to the five previous applications for masts in the area–in fact, the Fortwilliam Action Committee was formed in response to a BT Cellnet proposal for a mast at Somerton Road – before this the area had no ‘community’ representation. The lack of consultation with local residents and with the schools would suggest a disregard for the sensitive siting of masts and indeed for local opinion.
At this time of year the primary schools and their families should be preparing and looking forward to Christmas – not preparing for a major campaign against the BT Cellnet mast. In stating that BT tries to site masts sensitively, it is admitted that “we have not always got it right in the past” – if BT Cellnet proceeds with 642-644 Antrim Road this will be another such case.
Please give careful consideration to these comments.