Residents oppose phone mast

23 November 2012

PLANS to install mobile-phone masts in the tower of St Augustine's, Kilburn, are being opposed by more than 100 signatories of an online petition.

Local residents argue that the consultation carried out on behalf of the installation company was inadequate, and they cite concerns about potential health risks.

A petition for a faculty for the installation was submitted to the Consistory Court on 13 September, after a resolution was passed by the PCC on 1 August, the same day that the church displayed a faculty notice both outside and on indoor noticeboards.

In April, a planning consultation company which works with the Church of England, GVA, and the engineering and installation company New Edge Tele­com­munications (NET), carried out a public consultation. On Wednesday of last week, a spokesperson for GVA said that "formal consultation" always took the form of a letter sent by recorded delivery "providing a description of the proposal and enclosing scheme drawings".

Sylvia Dibble, of the Randolph Gardens Residents Association, said on Thursday of last week: "We have had no consultation whatsoever. None of us have had letters."

Mrs Dibble is concerned about the potential health risks posed by the installation: "My block of flats is 200 metres from the bell tower.The distance from the bell tower is significant, as the area mostly affected by the radiation is the first 400 metres. This mobile phone station is being imposed on us. We feel we have been kept in the dark about this."

Several of the signatories of an online petition opposing the installation cite concerns about the potential health risks to children at nearby schools. One mother wrote: "The Church should be more responsible, and not seek to make money from such an unneighbourly proposal."

Bill Pratt, the head of Naima Jewish Preparatory School, which is located a tenth of a mile from the church, said on Monday that neither he nor his governors had received a letter from GVA. He had only found out about the plans from a local resident "two or three weeks ago.

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"I would expect consultation to at least mean dialogue between all parties," he said.

On Thursday, the managing director of NET, Peter Morrell-Brown, said that he had told Mr Pratt that the company was "always keen to engage with any interested party to mitigate any concerns they may have about a proposed telecoms installation", and said that there were already three existing mobile sites closer to the school. With regard to safety concerns, he said that there were radio sites located on schools and hospitals.

Guidance produced by the London Diocesan Advisory Com­mittee states that there are "considerable financial advantages potentially to be gained from introducing a telecoms installation into suitable properties", but warns that "careful consideration needs to be given to a range of questions".

These include practical, aesthetic, health, ethical, and moral aspects. A PCC "must consider all of these factors, and come to a decision on the right way forward for them, preferably in consultation with the wider congregation".

The Vicar of St Augustine's, the Revd Colin Amos, confirmed on Monday that a faculty notice was displayed on 1 August for "29 or 30 days", both outside and on indoor noticeboards. One response had been received.

He said on Wednesday that the installation would generate £13,000 every year, "which the PCC has agreed to earmark towards repairs and restoration of our magnificent Grade I listed building, parts of which are falling into disrepair due to lack of funds".

The PCC had "carefully considered the perceived health-risks in the context of all the latest available scientific evidence". English Heritage had confirmed in writing that they had no objection to the scheme.

"We remain one of the poorest parishes of London, and a walk along any street will demonstrate the very high level of use of mobile phones; land lines being impossible to obtain for housing reasons or economically prohibitive," he said.  "St Augustine's will be thanked by the vast majority for enhancing this aspect of their lives."

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