Planning Portal

Sam Foster Considers Telecommunication Masts Legislation

Published on Fri, 6 Apr 2001
Sam Foster, MLA, the Minister of the Environment, received the response from the Assembly’s Environment Committee to his consultation paper on telecommunications today.
Mr. Foster said: "I have just received the Environment Committee’s views and will be giving them full consideration together with the other 78 responses to this consultation exercise.
"I am aware of the benefits a modern communications system brings to society and in particular to our economy, but I also recognise that people are concerned about where masts are located.
"I will shortly be discussing the results of the consultation with my colleagues in the Executive, in particular the Minister for Health Social Services and Public Safety on health aspects and the Minister for Enterprise Trade and Investment regarding the consequences of any changes in the legislation for economic development.
"These are issues of real public concern and importance and they require, and will receive, careful attention by the Executive."

Notes to Editors

  • The paper, which was issued in November 2000, formed part of the Department’s response to the Report of the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (The Stewart Report). It sought views on possible changes to legislation governing the erection or alteration of telecommunications masts by licensed operators and on a new Planning Policy Statement.
  • Telecommunications operators licensed by the Department of Trade and Industry under the Telecommunications Act 1984 currently enjoy permitted development rights under Part 17 of Schedule 1 to the Planning (General Development) Order (Northern Ireland) 1993 as amended (commonly referred to as the GDO). These rights allow the operators to install specified telecommunications apparatus without the need to make a planning application to the Department. Certain development, such as the installation of masts of up to 15 metres in height, is, however, subject to a "Prior Approval Procedure", under which the Department has the opportunity to say whether it wishes to approve details of the siting and appearance of the installation.
  • Amendments were made to the GDO in May 2000. This changed the 28-day prior approval period to 42 days in respect of ground-based telecommunications masts. This change was designed to give the Department a longer period during which to carry out public consultation on the siting and appearance of such ground-based masts.
  • Last year the Government asked the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) to set up an Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP). This Group, under the Chairmanship of Sir William Stewart FRS FRSE considered concerns about health effects from the use of mobile phones, base stations and transmitters. They conducted a rigorous assessment of existing research and gathered a wide range of views. The Group published its Report (the Stewart Report) on 11 May 2000. A copy of the Report is on the Group’s website at Opens link in a new browser window
  • In its initial response published on 11 May 2000, the U.K. Government welcomed the Stewart Group’s Report and accepted many of its recommendations. A copy of the Government’s response may be found at Opens link in a new browser window
  • In particular the Government accepted the adoption of a precautionary approach as advised by the Report. The Government’s response outlined the range of actions being taken in response to the report’s specific recommendations.
  • On 18 July 2000, the Executive announced the action they intended to take on foot of devolved matters.
  • Some recommendations of Stewart are being taken forward by the Government on a UK wide basis whilst others such as planning are being taken forward by the devolved administrations. The Department of Health is keeping an overview of action taken by appropriate Departments to respond to the Report’s recommendations.
Progress is as follows -
  • Research is being taken forward by the Department of Health in conjunction with the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI).
  • Mobile phone operators have agreed to ensure that all existing base stations meet the guidelines of the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) for limiting exposure to electromagnetic fields.
  • In addition, the operators have agreed that all new mast development will be accompanied by a certificate of compliance with ICNIRP guidelines.
  • DTI is developing arrangements for information about mobile phones exposures to be made available. It is also arranging for the measurement and auditing of base station emissions throughout the UK. Auditing of base stations near schools is seen as a priority. A number of audits have now been carried out and these indicate a level of exposure at a tiny fraction of the ICNIRP guidelines (e.g.: the highest level was approximately 1/600 of the guideline levels). The database of results is on the Radiocommunications Agency Opens link in a new browser window website.
  • The Department of Health in conjunction with the Health Departments of devolved administrations has published 2 public information leaflets giving clearly understandable information on mobile phone technology and related health effects.
  • The Department of Education has issued advice to schools and local education boards about base stations in and around school premises and the use of mobile phones by children.
  • The DOE consultation paper covered Northern Ireland only. It issued on 10 November 2000 and was widely circulated. The closing date for responses was 15 January 2001, but at the request of the Assembly’s Environment Committee the closing date was extended to 16 February 2001. There have been 79 responses, including the Environment Committee.
  • Separate Consultation Papers were issued by the DETR in England and the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Executive. The outcome of the Welsh and Scottish consultations is still awaited. The outcome of the DETR consultation exercise for England was announced on 16 March 2001. The DETR advised that the current Prior Approval system would be retained with an extended consultation period of 56 days and additional consultation arrangements. The full press release is on Opens link in a new browser window
  • Further information contact Paddy Murphy DOE Press Office Tel. 028 9054 0014.
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