Saturday, September 20, 2008

Anger at school mobile phone mast plan

Parents of children at Martongate who are concerned about the possibility of a phone mast outside the school. (PA0837-17)
By Alexa Copeland

CONCERNED parents are protesting against a "totally inappropriate" plan to erect a phone mast near a primary school.
The grass verge in front of Martongate Primary School has been earmarked by mobile phone company Vodafone for a base station – a radio signal transmitter on a 12-metre pole.

Mobile phones cannot operate without them, but concerned parents argue some studies have shown radiation emitted from the masts can be damaging to health, causing increased risk of cancers and blood pressure problems.

However, a Vodafone spokesman said: "All our base stations are built and operated in accordance with stringent international guidelines and typical public exposures from base stations will be many hundreds, if not thousands, of times below these guidelines."

Fay Firth, of Aysgarth Rise, whose eight-year-old son Jacob attends Martongate, is dismayed at the plan.

"It is absolutely absurd," said Fay.

"I've done my research and found all sorts of awful health side effects from these things. They can also affect children's concentration and their ability to study; it's so hard to get their attention in the first place.

"Why not put it in Bempton Lane? Surely that's a much better place as it would still cover the whole of Bridlington from up there but would be away from schools and houses."

An independent report commissioned by the Government department for Children, Schools and Families suggested beams with the highest levels of radio frequency radiation usually fall between 50 and 200 metres of a mast.

Therefore it advised that base stations should not be placed where their beams will fall on to school grounds without the permission of teachers and parents.

Martongate headteacher David Carruthers said the plan was still at the pre-consultation stage and a planning submission had not yet been made.

But he said it was "only right" parents were offered the chance to have their say.

In a letter from the school, parents were informed that if the plan reaches the next stage – an application for planning permission – Mr Carruthers would lead a "high profile campaign" in calling for a formal consultation to ensure a more appropriate site was found.

Carol Firth, of Wensleydale Close, is Jacob's grandmother and only became aware of the proposal after finding the letter from the school in her grandson's workbook.

"It should be advertised to everyone more clearly," she said. "It was just lucky that I discovered the letter in Jacob's bag but I bet there's plenty of people out there who don't even know what's going on."

Carol also strongly objects to the base station. "Surely the siting of this mast is totally inappropriate beside a school."

Conclusions about the health risks associated with radio wave exposure are often conflicting.

A report by the Environmental Management and Design Division at Lincoln University, New Zealand, looked at over 40 studies of the health of people exposed to mobile phone radiation.

It found people exposed to even low-level radio frequency had a heightened risk of sleep disturbance and cancers in many parts of the body.

However, the World Health Organisation argues cancers are unevenly distributed among any population and, given the widespread presence of base stations, cancer clusters will occur near stations by chance.

The organisation insists there is no convincing scientific evidence that signals from base stations are harmful.

As planning permission has not yet been sought by Vodafone for a base station in Martongate, East Riding of Yorkshire Council says it is unable to comment on the issue.

The Vodafone spokesman said: "The proposed radio base station in Martongate is required to improve the 3G coverage (mobile broadband) to our customers in the area.

"This location was chosen as it provides a backdrop of street furniture against which the proposed base station will not be visually intrusive.

"As part of our pre-application consultation, we have sent out letters explaining the proposed development and requesting feedback to local ward councillors and the local school, and have also erected a voluntary site notice.

"We will not submit an application until the consultation has been completed.

"We recognise that some communities are concerned regarding the deployment of radio base stations but last year an Irish independent expert group concluded that exposures from radio base stations are so low as to make it immaterial where masts are located with respect to schools, playgrounds, health centres or other places where children gather"