New mobile phone mast on Mount View Road

At Lynne Featherstone MP meeting residents and Hutchison 3G representatives at the proposed Mount View Road mobile phone mast locationlast we have a meeting with Hutchison 3G who are the mobile phone company erecting a mast on Mount View Road – where residents have been fighting tooth and nail against it.

Even Haringey turned it down – but Hutchison won on appeal. This is really a last ditch attempt to try and get Hutchison to change their mind.

These meetings are never easy – and I am grateful to Mike Davies from Hutchison for coming to face us. The mast will be situated barely 20 metres from residents’ houses, and very close to children’s bedrooms.

For me the important issue is to follow the precautionary principle – don’t site masts near young children, vulnerable people and schools etc. So – back to this mast. Robin Derham and near neighbours with a range of phenomenal skill sets were there for the discussion. There had been deliberately no demonstration organised this time – the idea was to talk and persuade.

Attending as well as Mike Davies, who is the Corporate Affairs Manager for H3G, was the planner for the site and on the residents’ side – Barbara Derham (Co-ordinator of the Neighbourhood Group, Mount View Road); Dorothy Livingston (lawyer); Peter Sommer (radio and telecomms expert); Chris Turrell (businessman) and Dr Chris Wood – doctor specialising in immune systems. Sadly Neil Morrissey could not be there – but was quoted as saying he was willing to chain himself to the railings if it came to it!

I won’t go into the techy arguments – but Mike Davies agreed to take back to the decision makers the question that Robin put – were Hutchison willing to look for alternative sites even at this late stage? And also – to look at the angles and direction of the coverage which appeared to mostly go towards the houses where there was already coverage as opposed to H3G’s stated aim of filling in the coverage gap in the other direction.

I hope they will look for a new site as far away from residential properties as is possible. They mentioned a site that seemed to be arbitrarily rejected before, but I don’t know enough details to judge whether it would be better or worse than this one.

So – we wait and hope.

One problem H3G voiced was that Haringey Council has put a moratorium on masts on council property, land or buildings – and that is forcing the mast companies on to residential streets. The criteria should surely be not who owns a possible site – but how suitable or not the site is.

Second problem – and one I will be pursuing – is that the conditions set by the Government for the licence for mast companies requires that they have an independent network. With five companies in the field all erecting their own sites – that’s a lot of masts. So – I’ll be pressing the Government to allow for more sharing of resources.

We do all (well many of us – including me) use mobile phones – which is why I’m happy with arguing for the precautionary principle – and not an outright ban – because we should put health concerns first, whilst also recognising that people do like having decent reception on their phones.

Campaigning with Neil Morrissey

Joined Lynne Featherstone MP campaigning with Neil Morrissey and others against an inappropriate mobile phone masta protest against a new mobile phone mast on Crouch End Reservoir, which is on Mount View Road. Once more the Goliath of the mobile phone mast people (this time Hutchison 3G) is crushing the David of local residents and campaigners against its siting.

And the siting is wrong. It is within 20 metres of bedroom windows, within 200 metres of nursery school and its ugly and 30 metre being is to be placed ruining a lovely view out across London (currently unobstructed). Oh and it is in a conservation area.

Now yes, we (nearly) all use mobiles. But this is about both the location – in appropriate – and about the precautionary principle. This mast would both ruin a lovely view and site and also would be very close to young children at school.

So – Haringey Council did turn it down. But the big boys appealed and won – as they do. And this application will beget other applications. The local campaign group led by Robin Derham and with huge local support – including Men Behaving Badly star Neil Morrissey – has done everything they can. But one last ditch attempt to get Hutchison to see reason (or the law) is the submission of an appeal for a judicial review. The case has been filed and put together – and they await (legal) Counsel’s opinion as to chance of winning. It will cost the earth – and it isn’t right that local residents should have to fight these Goliaths, whose pockets are so deep and who act like steamrollers over local people’s wishes.

The planning system isn’t right. It has a presumption in favour of the developer and even if the developer loses then the developer can appeal. But if the developer wins, then the objectors don’t get to appeal (except in extreme and expensive cases of judicial review). (I’ve written in more detail about this topic before).

So – I am also going to try and get the Chief Executive of Hutchisons to meet with me and the key campaigners to see if persuasion (even compassion) might beat in the chest of the mighty mobile magnate.

New Year message

2005 was a bit of a year – and then some.

As I look back over the year – I am thrilled with what we have been able to achieve. No – not just the General Election (clearly a stunning victory turning a Labour majority of 10,514 into a LibDem one of 2,395) but the causes and campaigns I and my LibDem colleagues have championed together with local residents. That’s what has made the difference in Hornsey & Wood Green.

Current battles ongoing perhaps sum up some of what I am trying to do in the constituency – which all boil down to making it a better place for local people to work, rest and play – to quote a famous old advertising tag line. I don’t think aiming for a clean, pleasant and safe environment is asking too much!

I’ll start with the Hornsey concrete factory planning application. London Concrete want to plonk a concrete batching plant on Cranford Way – right bang in the middle of a residential area – with schools and children and narrow streets – just the sort of place for over 300 HGVs per week to wreck the local ambience! I and my LibDem colleagues have been campaigning against this application since the moment it was lodged – together with great local group Green N8.

We passed the first hurdle with Haringey Planning Committee refusing the application – but in the way of the world – the developer has appealed and as I write we are in the middle of the hearings by Her Majesty’s Inspector to whom I gave ‘evidence’ the week before Christmas. You can read the evidence on my earlier blog posting about the concrete factory plans.

I invited both John Prescott and Ken Livingstone to see the evil that would be done. Neither accepted my invitation. Holding baited breath now and crossed fingers – this David and Goliath battle will be settled by the end of January.

Another battle that engages me is the fight against sitting mobile telephone masts near vulnerable people – like young children. The idea is to bring forward legislation that would enable local councils to refuse planning permission on the grounds of the precautionary principle – until such time as we have proof positive of what these masts do or do not do to our health. This doesn’t just happen in Hornsey & Wood Green but up and down the land. And of course, we all do use mobile phones, so we can’t be overly pure. The Government is still proclaiming that there is no evidence of damage to health. I have challenged the Government through Parliamentary channels to do the scientific studies necessary to look at the incidence of cancer around mobile phone masts in situ for 10 years – without which we are all in anecdotal territory. They haven’t responded as yet.

Locally, of course, we occasionally succeed and see off a phone mast application – but they relentlessly return nearby or at the same site but from a different company. Good news though – recently in a statement by the local Head of Planning in regard to refusing a particular mast in Fortis Green, he went as far as to say ALL future applications for mobile masts in the Haringey conservation area will be an outright NO from now on! Watch this space.

I am also still keeping up the pressure on Haringey Primary Care Trust (PCT) over the future of the Hornsey Central Hospital site. Following a long campaign against closure of the old hospital and then a long process of working with local residents and other interested parties – proposals for a new health facility finally came forth from the PCT for a mix of local health services and elderly care. However, dogged by funding problems caused by the withdrawal from renting some of the space by the Health Trust etc delays and fears about its future have crept in. So I recently met yet again with the Chair of the PCT and received personal assurances from him of his commitment to ensuring that the project goes ahead. But there must remain, until the public meeting in the New Year that he has promised me, concerns over what of the original promised facilities will actually proceed and get built.

As for policing – Safer Neighbourhood Teams are what we all want. They are what we have always wanted. But whilst London is promised complete roll-out in the next year – some ‘neighbourhoods’ are being left out. I have long campaigned to get a team into Highgate – and at last am encouraged that we are on our way to success. Highgate is split between three different boroughs. Now no police commander I know – despite their protestations about cross-border working – is willing to commit him or herself to an actual cross-border Safer Neighbourhood Team. So I have brought this to the Metropolitan Police Authority on several occasions. And am helped in my quest by Crystal Palace – ironically. Crystal Palace is split between five areas – and so the MPA are running a pilot there which if successful will be applied to neighbourhoods like Highgate which suffer from divided ownership. The sooner the better!

So – with obviously lots more going on than I can possibly begin to convey in this message – not to mention the fight of our lives against Labour’s attack on the fundamental principles of liberty and justice in our land – I look forward to a challenging and pretty energetic year ahead.

A very Happy New Year to you all!

Mobile phone masts debate

Attend a panel debate about mobile phone masts. What is clear here is the passion in the room and the frustration of the people with the blanket refusal of the authorities and Labour to truly examine the situation.

Whilst myth and anecdote undoubtedly mix with fact in some people’s views, my take on the meeting is that some serious scientific studies need to be done to examine whether there is an increase of cancer incidence in the area that lies directly in the beam of greatest intensity from masts in place for, say, 10 years.

In the meantime – planning law should be based on the precautionary principle and we should permit through planning law only those masts which avoid schools etc until the studies are complete.

Mobile phone masts

Early meeting with Peter Wingate-Saul, the National Community Relations Manager at Crown Castle UK – who are a company who find sites for mobile telephone masts. He has asked for a meeting as he wants to put the mobile phone industry’s side of the case regarding health risks and how guidelines and government views are formed, on what authority and on whose advice.

I am pleased, as always, to hear all sides and have some sympathy in terms of the case he made for not making legislation based on people’s fears but rather making it based on substantive points. However, I am still not convinced that we can be sure there is no harm whatsoever from mobile phone masts or phones.

I am firm in my belief that proper planning processes should be applied to all masts and that until there is more information – preferable more definitive information – we would be wise to continue to be cautious on behalf of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens. In fact I have backed an Early Day Motion in this regard this week. (There’s ane explanation of what EDMs are on the Parliament website).

One of the women in one of the local campaigns believes her child is already suffering radiation sickness and has had a test done on the roots of his hair which she says show positive. I have asked if there is an NHS hospital that is carrying out these tests – as it may be important to try and get a wider health survey of such evidence properly tested.

A typical Tuesday

Off in the morning to the Vodafone shop in Muswell Hill Broadway to join Muswell Hill Mothers Against Masts. Vodafone had gone ahead and turned on their controversial new mobile phone mast. Now – the mothers continue to protest and I support them. We need legislation which will give local authorities the power to reject applications on the ‘precautionary principle’, such as where such applications are sited near vulnerable members of society.

We do (nearly!) all use mobiles – but precaution near the most vulnerable seems a good compromise to me.

The surveyors working with Vodafone have contacted me since the meeting to say that they believe there is less danger near to masts. I will meet them. I think their argument is going to be that a mobile phone (which is much closer than a mast to an individual and so the impact of its signal on the individual is much stronger) will emit less when it is near a mast – so conversely (and counter-intuitively) the user will get less exposure if they live near a mast as the mobile phone in their hand will be emitting less – because it is nearer a mast and so having to work less hard. But of course mobile phone users have choice about whether or not to have them, switching them off etc. Someone who has a mast put in near where they live doesn’t have that choice.

Then off to Haringey Council for a briefing about school places. This was one of the main local issues I talked about in my maiden speech.

Pressure from parents who have not been able to get their children into any of the top three preferences has worked to a degree. Expansion is now taking place in the Muswell Hill and Crouch End areas – and thank goodness there was an election coming up to focus the efforts and kick the Labour-run council out of its past complacency on the issue. Without the political pressure that forces action when lost votes are looming on the horizon, it may very well not have happened.

Then a summer garden party at Kekewick House. All care homes should be like this. The garden is gorgeous – and we are celebrating the new summerhouse, which is gorgeous too and will allow residents to sit in the garden all year round protected from the weather. Tea and scones go round – and it truly is an idyll for elderly care.

Round off the day with a meeting with Harriet Harman to discuss constitutional affairs – for which she is the Minister. I believe we should be doing more to safeguard postal voting against possible fraud. During the election many people were actually scared to vote by post because of the reported level of abuse. As to the Government’s long promised ‘review’ of electoral reform – I get the feeling they want to kick it into the long grass in real terms. If there was fair voting for Westminster elections – 36% of the vote would not give them the sort of power ‘first past the post’ has just delivered. Christmas and turkeys I’m afraid.

Later am hanging around waiting for vote on the Lottery Bill second reading – when the debate fizzles out and there is no vote that night so can go home around 8.30pm – early night!

Mobile phone mast protest

In the evening – go to a mobile phone mast protest meeting. Barbara Roche (incumbent Labour MP) and I have both been invited to speak – and the residents are out in number. Yet another mast application – this time in Palace Gates Road – and, yet again, residents feel they are not having a fair change to have their say.

The answer is to change the law – it was under the last Conservative government that mobile phone companies were given the ability to put up many of their masts with only minimal control.

Although Labour MPs (like our one here!) like popping up and backing protests against particular masts – Labour still haven’t changed the law to ensure all applications have to go through a proper application procedure. I believe local authorities should have the power to block mobile phone masts on the grounds of the “precautionary principle”, where that’s appropriate.

That’s the only real solution – there’s no point backing protesters if you’re not going to back changing the law to give them a fair say. The Lib Dems proposed in Parliament changing the law – but sadly didn’t get support from the other parties. Something to return to after the election!

We all agree to work with residents to fight this application – and an action committee is formed. One woman says to Barbara that she keeps seeing her at meetings but what does she actually do about it? I couldn’t possibly comment!

Mobile phone masts

Arrive at protest against the Vodafone mobile phone mast which is to be hoisted aloft the old BT building in Grand Avenue, Muswell Hill.

I am about 15 minutes late (doctor’s appointment) and as I arrive I hear this fantastic chant of ‘another brick in the wall’. Except that it’s the children from a nearby school singing (to the tune of ‘another brick in the wall’) – ‘We don’t need no – radiation … All in all we’re gonna fight ’til all the masts fall.’

It was a fantastic sight and sound with the children and parents standing firm to protect their youngsters against the harm that we are all concerned may lurk around masts – and mobile phones for that matter. I’m a firm believer in the precautionary principle.

I hope that Vodafone have a heart and decide against proceeding with this mast. But that won’t answer the bigger picture issue. Individual protests spring up around lots of mast proposals – sometimes there’s a victory, more often not. And of course, lots of us use mobile phones – so simply arguing for an outright ban wouldn’t make sense or be consistent.

So instead on Friday in the Commons, Andrew Stunnell (Lib Dem MP) is bringing forward a Private Members’ Bill which proposes the precautionary principle. It makes sense to be cautious and careful, particularly around children, the elderly and the sick. And for local authorities to have the power to reject an application based on the precautionary principle where there are vulnerable children and adults nearby.

We also want ALL masts to need to go through the planning process – not just those over 15 metres. It’s daft that at the moment large masts can go up without any planning application being needed but many people have to apply for planning applications for relatively minor changes to their home such as to a porch.

Next Monday at Haringey Council we are also debating the issue after my colleagues in the Lib Dem council group submitted a motion. I hope the protestors will be bringing a deputation too.