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Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 20:03 GMT 21:03 UK
Phone mast laws 'toughest in UK'
Mast location is a contentious issue
Mast location is a contentious issue
Northern Ireland looks set to have the strictest legislation governing mobile phone masts anywhere in the British Isles.

Tough new laws controlling the siting of masts was put to the assembly on Thursday.

However, the mobile phone industry in Northern Ireland has expressed concerns for the future.

The move was announced by Environment Minister Dermot Nesbitt.

The legislation would see all masts - regardless of size - requiring full planning permission.

In the past, only masts higher than 15 metres needed full planning permission.

People are also concerned about where telecommunication masts are located

Dermot Nesbitt
Environment minister

The minister also published a new policy on telecommunication masts on Thursday.

He said: "A modern communications system brings massive benefits to people and businesses alike.

Local communities

"People in Northern Ireland have come to enjoy the convenience and accessibility mobile phones provide, and their many benefits.

"None of this could have happened without the masts and other infrastructure, which enable the service to be delivered across Northern Ireland.

Dermot Nesbitt: Legislation put before assembly
Dermot Nesbitt: Legislation put before assembly
"But people are also concerned about where telecommunication masts are located. It is vital that masts are designed and sited sensitively so that their environmental impact is kept to a minimum."

He said people in local communities must have a better opportunity to have their say on proposals for mast development.

Mast development

There was particular concern about possible health effects associated with mobile phone technology, said the minister.

"The new legislation is stricter than England, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland. Nowhere else in these islands will mobile phone mast development be controlled to the same degree as in Northern Ireland," said Mr Nesbitt.

Phone companies in the province are worried about their future development including the new 3G system, if these proposals are confirmed in the new legislation.

The telephone industry watchdog has criticised the proposals and said Northern Ireland's telecommunications infrastructure could fall behind the rest of Europe.

Many communities across Northern Ireland have campaigned against phone masts over fears that low level radiation could pose a health risk to people living near the ariels.

It is believed the new leglislation will aim to strike a balance between public concern about possible effects on health and the growing need for mobile telephone services to support the development of the economy.

BBC NI's Mike McKimm:
"A possible change to legislation was signalled 18 months ago"
BBC NI's Mike McKimm:
"It was the legislation the mobile phone industry had feared"
See also:

15 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
NI planning limits on phone masts
30 Jun 00 | Health
Phone mast fears dismissed
08 Dec 00 | Health
7m for mobile health research
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