Phone tower reaction

International communities demand action about the inappropriate siting of phone towers and inappropriate carrier activities.

In Australia, campaigns against mobile phone towers have gathered momentum since the introduction of One.Tel to the telecommunications arena. Communities are angry and they are voicing their concerns. But how is the federal government responding?

The Australian Communications Authority has instigated the development of a Code of Practice on the Siting of Telecommunications Infrastructure. Whom have they picked for the role? As EMRAA has lamented in the past, an industry-dominated committee of industry body, ACIF. EMRAA is represented on this committee and is as intrigued about the possibility of achieving genuine gains for the community as our readers.

The Federal government has also asked state planning departments to develop their own policies on the siting of mobile phone towers. In NSW this process commenced in March with a workshop attended by industry and council planners (who knew nothing about EMR) with your editor as a lone voice for health concerns. Should the state policy ignore the health implications of EMR (as does the Victorian Code), communities will have even less protection than they do at present (from council policies). An horrendous thought!

In a campaign against a mobile phone tower in Beecroft, many people began clamouring for changes to legislation to have low impact towers subject to council planning approval process. These include state MP, Andrew Tink and Deputy Mayor of Hornsby Council, Steve Pringle.

While the Australian government seeks to preserve and extend the dominance of carriers over community, by implementing only illusionary democratic processes, overseas genuine gains are being made to protect community health.

The UK may be paving the way to a sensible approach to the siting of mobile phone towers. The Scottish Parliament’s Committee on Transport and the Environment recently issued a report on the siting of Telecom Masts which has been well-received by the community. The report recommended that planning permission be required for all telecom masts and that local authorities adopt a precautionary approach in regards to siting by keeping masts away from schools, hospitals and residential areas where possible. Commenting on the outcome, Dr Richard Dixon of Friends of the Earth, Scotland, said “The Committee’s recommendations will mean that all phone masts, however small, will be subject to proper local democratic scrutiny. This is a victory for common sense and the environment.” (FoE, 29.3.00.)

British MP Mr John Bercow has presented a Bill to regulate the development of telecommunications towers in the UK.

In his speech to parliament of March 1, Mr Bercow stated that “Respect must be shown for the environment, human safety and the tranquillity of communities. That is why we should amend planning policy guidance note to ensure that proper account is taken of community concerns. Full planning permission for masts on greenbelt land, listed buildings, wildlife sites, and sites near areas already protected by law is urgently needed. Full planning permission is also needed for sites near homes, schools and hospitals. It should be obligatory for mobile phone operators to provide one or two-year plans to local councils detailing their mast intentions; it would thus be possible for councils to know what was sought and to assess its validity.” He also called for mast sharing, cross-network roaming and a method of ensuring that masts are “sympathetically blended into the environment”.

Such is the concern about the health implications of the radiation from mobile phone towers in Britain that already 173 MPs have tabled their concerns by signing an “Early Day Motion”.

The British Conservative Party has issued an outline of its policy on mobile phone towers called “A Common Sense Approach” in which there are seven key elements:

  • “Planning guidance policy should be redrafted to take environmental and safety concerns into account.
  • Local communities should have a greater say on mast developments in or near areas of environmental importance.
  • Local communities should be allowed to question mast developments near schools, hospitals and residential buildings.
  • Local authorities must be better informed about all future mast developments to encourage co-ordinated development.
  • We will ensure mobile phone operators share masts to reduce demand for new masts.
  • We will investigate the viability of cross-network roaming within the United Kingdom, reducing demand for new masts in sparsely populated areas
  • We will issue new guidelines over what is an acceptable means for blending masts into the local environment.” (March 1, 2000)

Across the Atlantic, Canadian Toronto is also considering a precautionary proposal to reduce exposure from mobile phone antennas. Toronto’s Public Health authority has proposed that public exposure be limited to 6 uW/cm2 (or 5 V/m) for 900 MHz antennas and 10 uW/cm2 (or 6 V/m) for 1800 MHz antennas.

EMRAA News June 2000, Vol 5 No 2