Planning Portal

PPS 10: Telecommunications
Policy and Legislative Context: Health Issues

2.16 In 1999, the Government asked the National Radiological Protection Board to set up the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP) Opens link in a new browser window. 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 and comprehensive assessment of existing research and gathered a wide range of views. The Group published its Report, ‘Mobile Phones and Health’ (The Stewart Report) Health on 11 May 20003.
2.17 In respect of base stations, the report concluded that “the balance of evidence indicates that there is no general risk to the health of people living near to base stations on the basis that exposures are expected to be small fractions of the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) Opens link in a new browser window public exposure guidelines. However, there can be indirect adverse effects on their well-being in some cases”. The report also advised that the possibility of harm could not be ruled out with confidence and that the gaps in knowledge were sufficient to justify a precautionary approach.
2.18The IEGMP recommended a precautionary approach, comprising a series of specific measures, to the use of mobile phone technologies until there is more detailed and scientifically robust information on any health effects. The Government’s response to the IEGMP report4 includes acceptance of the recommended precautionary approach advised by the Group. Specific recommendations in the report (italics) and up-to-date responses include the following:
  • that emissions from mobile phone base stations should meet the ICNIRP guidelines for public exposure as expressed in the EU Council Recommendation of 12 July 1999 on the limitation of exposure of the general public to electromagnetic fields (0 Hz to 300GHz) 5.

    The mobile phone operators have now assessed and where necessary adjusted their existing base station sites to ensure that they meet the ICNIRP public exposure guidelines, which are more stringent than the former guidelines. All new base stations will meet the ICNIRP guidelines.
  • that an independent random audit of base stations should be carried out to give the public confidence that emissions to which the public are exposed do not exceed the ICNIRP public exposure guidelines.

    During 2001 surveys were undertaken by the Radiocommunications Agency (RA) Opens link in a new browser window. The initial focus of the audit has been schools with base stations on their premises. Over 100 surveys have now been completed, including 6 school sites in Northern Ireland, with all measurements so far showing emissions to be hundreds of times below the ICNIRP guidelines. Full results are published on the RA website at These results are currently being considered and a decision will shortly be taken on how to progress the audit.
  • that a national database be set up giving details of all base stations and their emissions.

    The Radiocommunications Agency has recently established and will now be maintaining a single co-ordinated database giving information on all operational, externally sited, cellular base stations in the UK. The database is an INTERNET based resource called Sitefinder. It can be accessed at and will be updated every three months.
  • that, in relation to macrocell base stations, the zone where the concentration of radio waves is higher than elsewhere6, should not fall on any part of a school’s grounds or buildings without agreement from the school and  parents; and that, if for an existing base station, agreement could not be obtained, the antennas may have to be readjusted.

    The Network operators have agreed to provide schools with information on the level of radio wave emissions on request.
  • that clear exclusion zones should be in place around all base station antennas to protect the public from areas where emission levels may exceed the ICNIRP public exposure guidelines.

    These exclusion zones, which relate to an area directly in front of and at the height of the antennas, should already be in place around all base stations. The mobile operators are developing and will be deploying common signage for sites where there is access to exclusion zones.
  • that a substantial research programme, overseen by a demonstrably independent panel, should be financed by the mobile phone companies and the public sector.
    A joint Government/industry research programme, the Link Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme, was set up during 2001. The Programme has an independent programme management committee led by Sir William Stewart and a budget of some £7 million. It will carry out further research into the effects of mobile phone technology on health. This will ensure that this area is kept under review and that Government and the public are kept up to date with new research findings. The first fifteen research projects to be funded under the programme and representing £4.5m of the research monies were announced in January 2002 by the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Committee.  For more information see
  • that the effects of mobile phone technology should be the subject of a further review in three years time, or earlier if circumstances demand it.

    The NRPB will review further research in this area and report on progress in 2003 or whenever significant new information becomes available.
  • that a leaflet be circulated by Government throughout the UK providing clearly understandable information on mobile phone technology and related health aspects.

    Two leaflets (a) Mobile Phone Base Stations and Health and (b) Mobile Phones and Health, have now been issued by the Department of Health / Northern Ireland Executive. These are available
2.19 Making sure that these steps are taken is the responsibility of the Government, the telecommunications regulating authorities and the mobile telecommunications industry. They are not matters for action by the planning system but are included here for information. The role of the planning system regarding health considerations is dealt with in paragraphs 6.28 – 6.34.
2.20 The Department will continue to liaise closely with the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and other government departments and agencies concerning the public health issues associated with telecommunications development and shall keep this whole area under review in the light of further research and advice.
3 A copy of the IEGMP report is available at or by post from the IEGMP Secretariat c/o the National Radiological Protection Board, Chilton, Didcot, Oxon OX11 0RQ.
4 The Government's response to the IEGMP report is available at
5 Off J Eur Commun, L199,59 (199/519/EC)
6 This concept was referred to by the IEGMP as "the beam of greatest intensity"
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