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Fury over 5G mast plans in Newbury

Mobile telecom companies are facing a fierce kick back from communities in West Berkshire over plans to build hundreds of 5G telecom towers near people’s homes.

Relaxed planning laws also mean masts as high as Nelson’s Column will be going up over the region’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

West Berkshire Council is powerless to step in, as the Government has relaxed planning restrictions to enable the rollout of 4G and 5G across the country.

It allows the telecom companies to erect masts where they see fit.

Protest on Greenham Road (58390434)
Protest on Greenham Road (58390434)

West Berkshire Council says it has received 80 new mast applications since 2020 and says many more are in the pipeline. Older masts are also being replaced or upgraded.

“The telecom companies just inform us of what they are doing,” said a spokesperson. “Assuming it meets requirements, we can’t refuse it.”

Figures from Mastdata – a UK mobile telecoms base station resource tool used by operators and contractors – put the numbers higher.

It says there are currently 881 recorded masts in West Berkshire with 734 planning applications (580 telecoms and 154 non telecoms).

There are currently 276 masts within a 7km radius of Newbury.

Vodafone has 146, H3G 32, EE has 52 and O2 has 46.

Mastdata says O2 has the best signal in Newbury and adds that the number of masts does not necessarily correlate to a good signal.

Its data reveals that there are 580 telecoms masts planned in the district.

The Government has an ambition for 5G coverage to reach the majority of the population by 2030.

The Shared Rural Network initiative, part-funded by government and industry, is designed to encourage telcos to invest in so called ‘not spot’ areas. In West Berkshire, those are mainly in the AONB.

Objections are being voiced on the latest applications for 15m masts – twice the height of their homes – in Newbury.

One resident claims a proposed tower at the junction of Stoney Lane and Turnpike Road would turn his south-facing bungalow into a sundial.

“This will be an eyesore at the end of Stoney Lane and for those still concerned with mobile signals on health could have an impact on house selling and prices,” Giles Waddington told Newbury Town Council’s planning and highways committee.

“This mast will make my bungalow a sundial. It is directly south facing and the mast is three times the height of my property.”

The prior approval cover letter from the telecom company wanting to erect the mast says “this location has been identified as being integral to the needs of Hutchison 3G (UK) Ltd’s network in this area”.

Mobile UK, the Newbury-based body which is the voice of the UK’s mobile network operators, said companies were not obliged to say how many masts are planned, or where they were planning to put them.

But a spokesperson said efforts were being made to double up the antennas on masts so different operators use the same mast.

Other objectors say the lack of scrutiny means the masts will not be camouflaged, effectively making the application non compliant with requirements.

“I’m not a nimby,” John Softley told the Newbury Town Council meeting. “But equipment should be sympathetically designed. The colour scheme proposed is light grey and the cabinets are going to stick out like a sore thumb.”

Residents in the Turnpike Road area claim further applications from another Telco have been submitted in the same area.

“There is an application by BT for two masts on Greenham Road, on the edge of Stroud Green,” wrote Andy Todd.

“Government policy is such that masts should be kept to a minimum and that wherever possible mast sharing should be encouraged, so, it would be good to know how much this has been pursued in this case.”

Three more have been mast plans have been submitted this week in Newbury.

Residents claim to have found out about them because of chalk marks on the floor mapping out the mast locations.

Another objector told the meeting that a mast was planned to go up right outside his house on Greenlands Road, which now has more than 10 objections on the West Berkshire Council planning application from Hutchison 3G.

“Only me and two other people were notified,” said Mark Costello. “ We should be able to protect visual amenities. This is a residential are and in the danger zones for emissions from 5G.

“These will be rolled out for two/three years and there is not enough evidence about health implications. Asbestos was the best fire proofing since running water, 30 years later look where we are on that.”

But the industry regulator Ofcom rejects claims over health concerns.

“Research into the safety of radio waves has been conducted for more than 80 years,” it said.

“The strong consensus of scientific opinion and public health agencies is that no dangers to health have been established from exposure to low level radio signals used for mobile communications including 5G when used within the guidelines.”

Earlier this year, West Berkshire Council was one of the Digital Connectivity Infrastructure Accelerator Competition winners.

This will see £500,000 spent on waving through the rollout of small 5G antennas on bus stops, lights, and other publicly-owned assets.

Do you think 15m telecoms masts should be subject to normal planning rules? Vote in our poll here

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