Patching, Clapham and Tolmare, West Sussex
We are concerned about the health risks, the costs, and the capacity of TETRA to provide effective police communications.
A mast was erected at Tolmare Farm, near Clapham, West Sussex. Not unusual. It was an O2 Airwave TETRA mast. Erected at night. Nothing unusual in that either. O2 Airwave was assuming some kind of emergency powers for the necesity of this mast: no consultation, no Ten Commitments no notice, no planning application.
This mast was refused retrospective planning permission on appeal. It is still there (August 2004), it is still temporary and it is still unwanted by the local people. And it is on Sitefinder as a permanent mast, with the same reference as already given to the Patching mast that was refused and is discussed here under appeal! In other words, as far as O2 Airwave is concerned this mast is going to be built whatever anyone says. Arun District Council has served an enforcement order, and O2 is duty bound to remove it and make good the area. But they have refused to show any gesture of goodwill by restoring an ancient dewpond. O2 has made it clear that they will remove the Tolmare mast after sufficient time to set up a working alternative site.
And so it was that O2 Airwave put in a planning application for nearby Patching Hill reservoir. The same areas of habitation are affected, and again, Arun District Council refused permission, not least on the grounds that this is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and that it would spoil the character of the landscape.
Appeal, and Planning Inquiry
Needless to say, O2 Airwave appealed the refusal, and the Patching Hill Reservoir application came before HM Planning Inspectorate in July 2004. The O2 Airwave legal and expert team arrive, fully presumptive that they would win. They demonstrated that there were no possible alternatives, anywhere else. No other mast of acceptable height could be used to police regions of Sussex, without such a proliferation of masts that they would interfere with each other.
Too many hills? Sounds like the the wrong kind of snow and leaves on the line? What is unique about the rolling Downs of Sussex? Is this the only part of the UK to present difficulties from line-of-sight communications systems like TETRA?
The Home Office Airwave contract is actually only to cover tarmac roads. Out in open country (where the police rarely go) there may be, in fact there are, vast areas with zero coverage. Yet this particular mast is essential. It is the last piece of the jigsaw to quote O2 Airwave. This mast is that important!
At the public inquiry, we learned that the Sussex Airwave network was handed over as Ready for Service on 23 July 2004. Ready for service? If this mast is so essential, it is at least incomplete for that reason alone. But actually there are still some issues to settle. Like Rogate, Trundle, Wadhurst, Warninglid, Brighton, East Marden and others subject to dispute or not yet constructed. What about gaps like the really obvious one around Slindon? All this will mean nothing if you are reading from elsewhere in the UK, but if this picture of hidden gaps is true for Sussex, are we unique? And what are the police doing accepting a network with holes in it?
During the enquiry, O2 Airwave experts muttered darkly about security and the Official Secrets Act, as justification for not revealing to the public where prospective sites would be. Secrets?? These base stations all end up on Sitefinder, are labelled O2 Airwave and look like, well TETRA masts! Whose secret is it? We feel the Home Office was instrumental in Airwave not declaring full information because of likely local protest (a feature in the Deputy Prime Ministers Code of Best Practice!).
And so to the Patching Hill site. This is sited near a disused quarry and a Southern Water reservoir, and part-masked by trees. (Southern Water has been extremely generous to O2 Airwave on our behalf.) Trees are a problem. They absorb the emissions and block the signal, so TETRA has to poke above the trees, and trees are advised not to grow any higher. Nevertheless, O2 claim, this proposed mast would be invisible. No one would be able to see it. And if you did come across it, walking the Downs, it could not possibly spoil your sense of tranquility of the place. Tranquility? The O2 expert clearly could not understand anything so irrational and un-objective as aesthetics, like music, art, and tranquility. If it isnt noisy, it cant spoil your sense of tranquility.
What about health concerns? Whilst this was not in the refusal by Arun District Council, it was certainly a concern to local residents, whose animals already have reacted adversely to the Tolmare mast. But at this enquiry, we heard the most certain and dogmatic assertion that:
there is no health risk. It is not an issue. The health effects do not occur.
What we did note of interest is that in the absence of mast coverage, where handsets can communicate directly with each other (DMO, or Direct Mode Operation) their range is just 500 metres. And in DMO there is no data transfer facility. Moreover, if two TETRA-equipped cars should happen to turn up at the same incident, their frequencies will collide, and jam each other.
And so it was that O2 Airwave dismissed all objections as irrelevant, denied any suggestion of lack of consultation, and declared that they had no Plan B should Patching be refused. They simply could not believe that even though the reservoir had by now blended into the environment, this brownfield site with its invisible mast could possibly be refused.
The Planning Inspectors decision was declared on September 22. The Tolmare mast must come down and the site made good within 14 weeks. The health argument for Patching has been completely disregarded: ICNIRP wins again. This invisible mast, it seems, will affect nobody.
TETRA, illegally, at Tolmare Farm, Findon, West Sussex. Following a public enquiry, retrospective planning permission was refused, but the police authority went ahead and accepted the Sussex network as ready for service!
It has now gone. The ancient dewpond, however is not restored. Despite Airwaves claims throughout the campaign that no action if ordered by the council can be carried out quickly, because of scheduling constraints etc., the contractors on site at Tolmare said they were only given instructions the previous day and such short notice is normal.