Page last updated at 20:07 GMT, Monday, 30 March 2009 21:07 UK

Council post blunder allows mast

Residents'  banner against the phone mast
Vodafone said the council's letter of refusal arrived a day late

A council's postage blunder has allowed a mobile phone mast to gain planning permission, despite the authority refusing consent.

Reading Borough Council says it posted first class a refusal notice to Vodafone for a mast at the corner of Westdene Crescent in Caversham in 2006.

But Vodafone claims it has permission by default because it received it a day after the required 56-day legal period.

Council internal procedures are now under review.

But residents who have protested against the mast said the mistake was "unacceptable".

'Time limit'

Preliminary work at the site has begun, but the mast has not yet been put up.

A statement from Vodafone read: "Reading Borough Council did not provide us with a decision notice within the time limit stipulated by planning legislation and therefore we received planning approval for this site.

"Despite this, we recognise that there has been local community concern regarding the development and since receiving planning consent, we have investigated a number of alternative sites in the surrounding area. "

A parked car on the site
Residents who protested also parked a car on the mast site

Current legislation allows mobile phone companies to assume masts below 49ft (15m) in height have been given planning approval if they do not hear in writing from a council within 56 days.

However, government planning policy guidance clearly states that councils should always get back in touch with applicants within the time limit regardless of whether prior approval is needed or not.

A spokesman from the council said: "As the onus is on the local authority to inform the applicant, the council is unfortunately in the position where it cannot legally take enforcement action.

"Internal procedures will be reviewed to prevent this scenario occurring again."

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