A MOBILE-PHONE mast is to be erected on the playing fields of Wells Cathedral School, in Somerset, after the operators, Vodafone, successfully appealed against an initial decision by the local planning authority to refuse permission.
A planning application for a 12.5-metre lattice mast in the grounds was originally submitted by Cornerstone, on behalf of Vodafone, to Mendip District Council Planning in January 2020. While many residents commented during the application process that the mast would improve the phone signal and benefit communication in the area, others objected on the grounds of health and safety, and the mast’s being unsightly and damaging to wildlife.
Permission was refused by the planners and Wells City Council in March 2020. Vodafone lodged an appeal, however, which was upheld in December.
On Tuesday of last week, a resident, Peter Welsh, who has been campaigning against the plans, expressed concerned that permitting the mast could encourage further applications on other school sports grounds. “The playing fields would be blighted by a phone mast on site, as would the meadows and National Trust woodland in its vicinity,” he said. “This is a sensitive area in terms of its school location, and the industrial lattice-style mast will reduce the joy and experience of all those who use the sports ground.
“Where else in the country does a school have a phone mast forced on to its land despite its own strong opposition? If the proposal goes ahead, it will encourage phone companies to consider pastures new across the UK previously out of their reach, including educational establishments.”
A spokesperson from Cornerstone said on behalf of Vodafone last week: “We’re working to ensure that our customers can use their mobiles wherever they live, work, and travel, and we require additional sites in order to ensure our customers in Wells have strong and reliable coverage. With Cornerstone, who manage our planning applications, we proposed a new site at Strawberry Fields to provide 3G and 4G services.
“Unfortunately, this proposed development was refused by the local planning authority. After assessing this refusal, we felt that the proposed development was the best solution available locally, and submitted an appeal against this decision. This appeal has now been allowed, which will allow Vodafone to provide network services to their customers.”
In a statement, Wells Cathedral School said: “We were concerned to read the decision by the Planning Inspectorate regarding the siting of a 12.5m lattice mast on our sports ground. We have two particular concerns. First is the fact that this has been approved, despite being described by the inspector himself as being ‘detrimental to the area’s visual qualities’.
“Second is the lack of consultation. In his report, the inspector cites the Code of Best Practice on Mobile Network Development in England, which states that there should be consultation with a school prior to the submission of any application. The inspector then goes on to say that although this prior consultation did not happen, this has not weighed heavily against the proposal.
“We are shocked that best practice has been ignored, that parents have not been given the opportunity to learn more about the proposal, and that we have not had the chance to address any concerns about siting a mast on school grounds. As it stands, this whole process feels undemocratic.”