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Tuesday, 3 April, 2001, 13:01 GMT 14:01 UK
MPs urge action over mobile masts
Mobile phone mast
Mobile phone masts remain a source of controversy
An influential Commons committee has said the current planning system for mobile phone masts has had the effect of making the public feel "powerless".

The Trade and Industry select committee said urgent steps had to be take to introduce some greater "certainty and clarity into the planning regime for telecom masts".

Urgent steps must now be taken to introduce some greater certainty and clarity

Trade and Industry committee report
But the committee also urged a moratorium on further changes to planning laws in the medium term to allow for the increasing demand for access to mobile phone technology.

That has to be balanced with public fears that the masts could cause cancer and other health problems.

A study last year by the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) suggested that roofs soaked up the radiation emitted by masts, meaning that levels absorbed by children inside classrooms were very low.

But that did not stop one local authority considering the introduction of a ban on the masts and has done little to dampen public concern.

The committee's chairman, Labour MP Martin O'Neill, said the committee was essentially recommending a tweaking of the existing regulations.

Martin O'Neill
Mr O'Neill suggests planning regulations need tweaking
He said the current situation was inconsistent.

The committee said: "Urgent steps must now be taken to introduce some greater certainty and clarity... so that the new regime is in place by the end of May 2001, a year after publication of the Stewart Report."

Tougher rules

Last year, a government-sponsored scientific inquiry, led by Sir William Stewart, urged parents to curb children's use of mobile phones and promised tougher rules for transmitter masts as a precaution against potential health risks from radiation.

Parents across the country have voiced concern about masts near schools and public play areas.

The committee also suggested that other sites where there are young children in particular should be identified.

"Unless it is clear that the planning system has a robust way of dealing with health fears expressed by people the results of the changes will be yet more frustration," the MPs said.

Last month the goverment altered its regulations strengthening the requirements for public consultation on masts of 15 metres and below.

They also increased time for authorities to deal with applications to 56 days and insisting that school governors must be consulted on all proposals for new masts on or near a school or college.

Wider consultation

The committee has recommended that parents as well as school governors be consulted where schools and colleges were likely to be affected.

Overall the government's changes received a mixed reaction from the committee.

"While we cannot give the... proposals an unqualified welcome, they do represent a neatly crafted compromise," the report said.

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See also:

22 Jan 01 | Health
Council considers mobile mast ban
30 Jun 00 | Health
Report dismisses phone mast fears
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