Phone mast radiation risk not our problem – SBC

ANY health risk from radiation which may be emitted from a lamp post-style telecommunications mast, due to be erected in a residential area of Galashiels, is not the responsibility of Scottish Borders Council.

That was the response from SBC HQ at Newtown yesterday after local MSP Christine Grahame, having been approached by concerned residents, said she hoped the local authority would monitor any impact on the health of those close to the structure.

“SBC has no further role in this matter,” said a council spokesman.

The controversy relates to a planning application from Orange PCS Ltd to erect the 35ft mast on land at Sanderson Court in Magdala Terrace. Five neighbours lodged formal objections to the bid which was considered by SBC’s planning committee last month.

The dissenters cited a range of concerns, including a charge that the mast was “enormous and ridiculous, 10ft higher than lighting poles, and will tower over the surrounding area”.

Another resident claimed: “The area is densely populated with residential properties, two children’s play areas, a school [Glendinning Primary] and a community hall. Government policy encourages equipment to be designed and positioned as sensitively as possible, and other councils have refused permission in such areas. There are vulnerable people here, including the elderly and children.”

And the health issue was also raised, the objectors claiming there was little scientific evidence that radiation issued by such equipment was not harmful.

Indeed, they alleged, the long-term effects were unknown and still controversial.

One neighbour, Elizabeth Moore of 94 Halliburton Place, demanded in advance of the committee’s decision a legally-binding letter from the applicants and local authority with an assurance that the structure was “100 per cent safe”.

But no such missive was received and the committee voted 10-2 to approve the application, in line with the recommendation of local planning officer Carlos Clarke who conceded that although concerns regarding the health risk were “understandable”, members were bound by Scottish planning policy which stated: “Emissions and radio frequency radiation are controlled and regulated under other legislation, and it is therefore not necessary for planning authorities to treat radio frequency radiation as a material [planning] consideration.”

And he said Orange had, in line with these guidelines, submitted a declaration that its installation and equipment would comply with the appropriate ICNIRP (International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection) guidelines for public exposure to radio frequency radiation.

Two councillors – Jim Hume and John Mitchell – called for the application to be continued, but they were outvoted and the proposal was approved on condition installation took place within three years and was finished in a grey colour. The committee also insisted that, when no longer operational, the mast should be permanently removed and the site restored to its original condition.

But although there is no third-party right of appeal under the Scottish planning system, the number of residents angered by the decision has swelled to 12 and, this week, they signed a letter, written by Mrs Moore, to Ms Grahame asking for her to seek an assurance from bosses at Orange, the company’s agent and the council that the mast, once it is erected, will be “100 per cent safe”.

The dissenting dozen also want a similar undertaking that the mast will not be detrimental to the value of privately-owned properties within its view.

Ms Grahame said this week: “Given the concerns of my constituents regarding health implications, I hope to encourage SBC to monitor any impact on the health of those close to the mast.”

But yesterday, the council spokesperson again cited compliance with policy guidelines and confirmed that it was not the role of SBC to monitor radiation.

The agents for Orange claimed the site, one of 15 which had been considered in Galashiels, best met its technical requirements and had been designed to minimise its visual impact. “Due to the decommissioning of a site at Botany Mill [in Roxburgh Street], this is designed to provide replacement coverage and meet Orange’s licensing obligations. The site is absolutely essential to the network.”