Campaign Against Tetra Siting (CATS): North Walsham, Norfolk
Members of the North Walsham Cats (Campaign Against Tetra Siting) claim the mast is responsible for several health complaints since it was switched on three months ago, including headaches, nosebleeds, migraines, skin rashes and sleep disorders.
First, the news...
Battle to turn off mast is revived. O2 Airwave says ‘stuff you’.
Mast switch off looms after court victory. This is good news for protestors in the short term; its purpose, however, is to avoid a legal precedent being set. If campaigners had won in court, it would have helped those who took similar legal action in future. The ODPM doesn’t back down unless there is a risk of a case being lost. If this case does go back for the Inspectorate to consider again, the whole process could be beyond the financial capacity of the local campaigners to challenge again.
Meeting and petition in Norwich, December 10, where Sir William Stewart and Dr Ian Gibson MP heard the concerns of people from Norfolk and further afield.
O2 branded cavalier by council chiefs (31 May 2004) (also gone missing)
Anti-mast campaign street protest wanted (18 May 2004) (also gone missing)
Now the story. Do read it all, there is the whole familiar world of O2 Airwave portrayed yet again.
Our protest started almost by chance when a carer at my sons nursery had some handouts to alert people to a Planning Application notification stapled to a telegraph pole outside the Police Station, on Yarmouth Road North Walsham. The proposal was for Installation of a 0.8 metre extension to existing tower, three omni-directional antennae, two radio dishes and equipment cabin.
We were very lucky to get informed by a nearby resident that this was for the Tetra system. This only happened as this resident had previously protested about the radio mast already on the site, and had made some contacts, who told him of the coming Tetra system.
The first Planning meeting was held in July 2003. Previously we had been subjected to a meeting at the local Community Centre where the delightful Susan Moore told us how lovely masts were, and said she couldnt answer any technical questions (meaning any questions raising concerns, and asking for more information). We concerned people left dear Susan our contact details, but busy bee that she is, she never did get round to contacting anyone. But it was nice of O2 to involve the community in their activities.
At the Planning meeting there was a reasonable group of local residents attending, and we had managed to get several letters of protest through to the Planners. Our principal objection has always been the completely unsuitable site, with the Vets surgery (50 metres away), St Nicholas Preparatory school and Kindergarten (100m), Aitkens House care home (110m), Poppies Nursery (200m), and Halvergate House Nursing home (300m). This is in the midst of a residential area, except for a section of the local park and childrens play areas. There is also a large (for North Norfolk) High School at 300 meters, and a cottage hospital at 330 metres. For O2, using the existing mast on the Police Station represented a real bargain in installation costs. O2 also argue strongly that this represents mast sharing, as they have used an existing structure. This has remained their main reason for this site. They have unfortunately also been supported throughout by the Chief Constable of the area, and by the Police Airwave Project team.
The Planning meeting deferred the Application, asking for investigation of other sites, and further technical and health risk information.
The next Planning meeting came up, with less than a week of warning, on January 14th 2004. I did some urgent house calling, and with the help of the vets, the Nursery, and St Nicholas School, we managed to get a sizable petition of protest. This time there was an independent expert witness from O2, a Richard Newstead. Thankfully, the Internet provided much information about Mr Newsteads expertise. As he had previously sold Tetra systems (working for Dolphin Telecom) and sought to sell Tetra in Europe, his independence was unquestionably lacking. This was pointed out by Councillors at the meeting, leaving Newstead surprised and confused. And his claim that the mast was no worse than a baby monitor was viewed with much suspicion.
Most of the Councillors spoke strongly on our behalf, and voted 9 to 1 to refuse the application. The grounds for refusal were the public fears over perception of a health risk and the inappropriate site selection.
I was then surprised to find that as this meeting only represented half of the Council, it being split into East and West sections, and controversial issues (such as this) had to get heard again. This would be The Joint Development Control Committee, next meeting on 19th February.
So a bit more drumming up of protest, and another Planning meeting. At least local businesses, and residents, were finally realising what was at stake, so that many letters and several petitions were sent to the planning officers. The meeting was well attended and at the end the vote was a resounding 16 to 1 against the application. The only unusual feature was that O2 had not sent anyone to defend their plan. This was soon explained…
Defiance and arrogance
As we all went home happy, only to find workmen at the Police Station getting on with installing Tetra. The antennae were up, and the equipment allegedly humming by around 24th February. Then there followed the television interference, the sleep problems, headaches, rashes, nosebleeds, etc. I still dont know whether my own personal feelings of unrest were from the stresses of the situation, the badly disturbed sleep, or the influences of the Tetra signal.
This led to the formation of our protest group CATS (Campaign Against Tetra Siting). I contacted Planning Sanity at around this time, and as able to get some valuable advise from Chris Maile on permitted development, which I then relayed to the District Council legal offices. We also all got to know other residents better, and had many consultations with our local Councillors. The support for the protest was very good, and included all the closest businesses.
O2 now claimed that as they were not going to extend the mast, as per the original application, they could install and operate the transmitter without the need of a planning application. They informed the press and later the DC that this was being done out of consideration to the views of the community.
I am still confused with my understanding that O2 did require prior approval notification, and that this had been expressly denied to them by the District Council. This seems to have not been needed yet, I certainly hope that it has not been ignored.
Following from the switch on, the next Planning meeting on 11th March decided that they needed legal advice before undertaking any enforcement action. This meant everything stalled until the next Joint meeting of April 15th.
Objection, and obfuscation
Meanwhile, our MP, Norman Lamb, had been busy. He sent letters of concern, disapproval etc. to the Council, O2, the Home Office, the Health Secretary etc. He was also involved in a meeting at the Police Station with the town Mayor, Project Managers from the Police, I believe some council executives, and the also delightful Josh Berle of O2. From this meeting we were all given to understand that this site was operating for testing, but should be thought of as temporary, and that O2 would be talking with the DC about alternative sites.
During this time we had many chances to speak to Berle, Moore and Paul Peters, and letters were also sent to Peter Erskine and Peter Richardson all of O2. These came from the Planning Officers, Norman Lamb, myself and four other protestors particularly. Being a small community, and so speaking together a lot, it became apparent that any contact would either be ignored, or would result in vague, reassuring noises that would not be followed up with any action. I would recommend any phone calls to O2 people are recorded, as they appear flexible about the information given to different people by telephone.
Finally the April 15th meeting arrived, and a vote for an enforcement notice was carried by 15 to 3. This was unfortunately not served until about May 7th, due to too many people being on holiday, and a slow legal department at the DC. At about this time O2 appealed the initial refusal of Planning permission, on February 19th, for the mast that they didnt actually build. They asked for written submissions, I think probably to keep the appeal process moving for as long as possible. This would be the bottom rung for further appeals, so that they could eventually claim National Security, Police Communications, Terrorists, etc., to ensure no possibility of moving the mast.
I wrote my submission, and checked that local businesses, and concerned residents had got their submissions in. The local Councillors (four from the District Council, and two from the Town council) produced an excellent submission for the appeal, and the District Council also wrote.
The problems of keeping up public momentum during this protest have been difficult. We also now had improvements in health, fewer nosebleeds, easier sleeping, just the occasional rash and early morning headaches, and less TV interference. I am sure this is because the mast output has been reduced to a low output level, while they wait for the rest of the network to get established. Fortunately, on the official side, the pressure was growing.
The DC had been waiting for a response from O2 to a letter requesting research into alternative sites, since March 24th. Under pressure from protestors, Councillors and our MP, the Council tried twice more to get O2 to enter into some kind of dialogue. Eventually an executive meeting was called, between the Police and the Council (and our MP), to try to find a grown-up method of resolving the situation. This resulted in an ultimatum being sent to O2 saying, respond to our concerns, talk seriously about other sites that could be used, or face the possibility of a stop notice.
So big surprise, no response from O2. I was starting to rant at our latest CATS protest meeting, where apathy had reduced numbers, and I felt that our opportunity to stop the mast was slipping away. We had also just learnt that O2 had issued their appeal to the Enforcement Notice, just as it reached its deadline. Thanks to Lisa Oldham of Mast Sanity, I had appeared on local news on a Friday morning, and again on the evening slot, and had then had several minutes of national telly on the Politics Show. This was mainly because the Tories wanted to put masts on their manifesto, but the presenter was very interested in our case, and would have happily used us in another show if we could get a protest organised. However I was losing hope of getting enough people out on a protest march, or even getting enough help to try to organise this.
Stop notice. But will O2 stop and notice?
I was told by one of our Councillors, who have been very hard working and supportive throughout, that it would be worth attending the next planning meeting, on the 10th June. At this meeting our Councillor Virginia Gay raised the possibility of a Stop Notice under Items of Urgent Business. As the only member of the public present I had to sit outside as this was discussed, it being an internal and legal matter. I came back into the meeting expecting to get the gist of their discussion, and be told what would be needed before issuing such a device. I was very startled to watch councillors take a vote on a Stop Notice, and agree to serve one, I think by 13 votes to 1, with 1 abstention. This notice should be ready to serve by about now (17th June) and I am still waiting (and hoping) for confirmation of this.
So we are now waiting to get written information from the Council about the latest appeal by O2 to the Enforcement Notice. This will then almost certainly be combined with the previous appeal. This means that it may be some time before this is heard, and before we know if the Planning Inspectorate will find in our favour. In the meantime, hurray, O2 are going to have to switch their damn mast off, and remove their equipment within a month. If we subsequently lose the appeal then our problems will become considerable, and will include our Council being sued for lots of money, no doubt. So we are not out of the woods yet, and are desperately hoping that no serious mistakes have been made in our appeal submissions, and in the work of the planning department.
Why we have to press on
I have now done a lot of research into the Tetra system, and have become a committed opposer of it in all its forms. I am still aghast at what the Government and O2/Airwave have concocted. I have considerable sympathy for anyone serving in the police force at present. I am also deeply unhappy with the management of the Police Force over this. I feel let down by the Government (as always), the Home Secretary, the Home Office, the Deputy Prime Ministers office, and now the World Health Organisation. I thought that we had safely passed 1984 by. More fool me.
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TETRA on North Walsham police station, Norfolk. Skip the planning, skip the objections; just stick it where you like, O2!
This is the police station where officers, including a chief inspector, complained of the ill-effects.