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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 08:18 GMT 09:18 UK
The battle against a mobile mast

The first Julie Smith knew about plans to erect a 45 foot mobile phone mast directly opposite her back garden was when she received a knock at her front door.

It was not the local council - or a representative from the mobile phone company - but a neighbour who had stumbled across the planning application by chance.

Basically a few of us got together and said, right what can we do about it

Julie Smith

"It was on a piece of A4 paper, tied to a lamp-post," Julie, a 42-year-old auxiliary nurse from Gatley, recalls.

"Luckily someone noticed it, because it would have been very easy to miss.

"Someone knocked on my door and basically a few of us got together and said, right what can we do about it?"


Eighteen months this group of friends and fellow campaigners had wrung an agreement out of mobile phone giant One2One not to build a mast near their homes.

Children running
Children playing near where the mast would have been
For Julie, who has an eight-year-old daughter, Maddie, the reason for fighting the mast was crystal clear.

"We were not just opposing masts for the sake of it. We are not anti-mobile phone.

"The bottom line is that nobody really knows if masts are safe - and if they ever do find out it will be far too late.

"I have a young daughter and I just wasn't happy with that."

Early setbacks

The campaigners - around 12 activists in total - organised themselves into an action group and began lobbying Stockport Council.

They also got the local media involved and made sure everybody in Gatley knew what was going on - and where to write to complain about it.

But their efforts failed to prevent Stockport Council throwing out a request to revoke planning permission for the mast.

The ruling Liberal Democrat group said they were sympathetic to the campaigners' concerns, but advice from lawyers and council officers was that the government, which ultimately sanctions planning decisions, would have thrown the request out.

The leader of the Lib Dem group said it would be a "reckless waste" of taxpayers' money to revoke the consents.

Angry

At this point many people would have given up. But the Gatley campaigners had the bit between their teeth.

"I was genuinely angry and so was Lisa (Oldham, a friend and fellow campaigner). We couldn't believe what had happened.


Ordinary people are just not listened to... that's the problem

Julie Smith

"We were so angry and so determined."

By this time the stress of the campaign had started to tell - Julie was having nightmares that the mast had already been erected.

The group was also discovering the power of the vested interests they were taking on.

Conflict of interest

"Ordinary people are just not listened to. That's the problem.

"The government take the money off the mobile phone companies so their hands are tied. There is a terrible conflict of interest there.

"The local council just says there is nothing they can do about it.
Julie Smith
Julie Smith: Legal victory

"But I doubt MPs or local councillors would allow a 45 mast to be put up a few yards from their back gardens."

The mountain of documents associated with the case was also taking up an increasing amount of time.

"I am an educated person. I have a degree. But the complexity of the language used in the planning documents seems deliberately designed to put ordinary people off," Julie said.

High court action

The Gatley group decided to seek a judicial review of the council's decision in the High Court, in Julie's name.

"I lived closest to where the mast was going to be erected and I have a daughter.

"But the main reason the action was taken in my name was that I could get legal aid. We could not really go ahead without that."

Backed by the national Campaign for Planning Sanity, a high court action was launched against Stockport Council, in an effort to reverse their decision on the mast.

But they were to be denied their day in court.

One2One, perhaps nervous of legal precedents being established, offered an out-of-court agreement not to erect a mast or allow other mobile companies to take over the site.

Fantastic feeling

This was enough to satisfy the legal aid board and the High Court action had to dropped.

The campaigners had won their own, small battle.

But hopes that the Gatley case would be a landmark ruling that would pave the way for other campaigners around the country were dashed.

"To get the judicial review was a fantastic feeling. We were jubilant.


It wouldn't have worked if we hadn't pulled together as a group. I couldn't have done it on my own

Julie Smith
"But we wanted it to go to court, we wanted a full hearing. We wanted to make it easier for others, in the future.

"So in that respect, we felt a bit deflated. We haven't changed anything, really. "

Nevertheless, Julie has no regrets about taking on the authorities.

"It is amazing how many people just sit back and think they can't do anything.

"You can make a difference. You can stop people getting away with things."

But, she stresses, "it wouldn't have worked if we hadn't pulled together as a group. I couldn't have done it on my own".

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Heathrow campaign

Mobile phone masts
See also:

04 Mar 02 | Education
03 Apr 01 | Politics
11 Apr 02 | N Ireland
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