Monday, 18 December 2017

Phone mast overlooking beauty spot wins approval

PERMISSION has been granted for a mobile phone mast and power base station to be installed near a children’s nursery

PERMISSION has been granted for a mobile phone mast and power base station to be installed near a children’s nursery and overlooking a Henley beauty spot.

South Oxfordshire District Council has approved an application by Vodafone and Telefónica O2 for the equipment, which will provide 3G coverage to the town.

The 18m metal mast with a 3m antenna on the top will be put at the far end of the station’s long-stay car park, less than 10 metres away from Treetops Nursery in Centenary Park.

Henley Town Council’s planning committee had recommended refusal while residents and the River and Rowing Museum had objected.

Paul Mainds, the museum’s chief executive, told the district council’s planning committee that the mast could affect tourism.

He said: “The key issue is the view from the towpath and from the river.

“Mill Meadows is a very, very important local resource, which is appreciated by visitors from the immediate area and also by tourists both nationally and internationally. Although the report from your officers says the economic impact is limited, I think you mustn’t under-emphasise the importance of tourism to the local community.

“This area is significant and indeed the district council and others were very happy to support the Olympic torch being run along this route by Sir Steve Redgrave in the summer and it was broadcast on regional and national television.

“It’s important that the backdrop to project this area is a rural one and not one demonstrating creeping urbanisation.”

Mr Mainds said that whether the mast would be screened by trees was debatable following tree-felling work at the request of Network Rail and the removal of diseased and damaged poplars outside the museum.

He added: “On a personal note, my 93-year-old mum is in a nursing home on the Wargrave side of the river. Yesterday, I had a very happy hour with her having lunch and looking out of her window, there was a view of the river and the towpath and we discussed the couple of geese tracking across the lawn but my eye kept coming back to the existing mast.

“It was the one thing that stood out above all, the hard lines of the radio mast compared with the trees and wildlife and that mast will continue to stand out, even when the trees come into full leaf, because it is so much higher and I believe that the new mast will have a similar impact.”

Laila Meachin, a member of the town council’s planning committee, said the mast would be above the tree line and almost three times the height of the tallest building in the area.

“It is next to the beautiful and iconic riverside area and is clearly visible from the River and Rowing Museum and from the towpath,” she said. “This is the main area of the riverside and is used by residents and visitors to Henley. Therefore, we feel it is not in keeping with the surrounding area.

“Its placement is also extremely close to a nursery used by many children and we are concerned about the effects on that business. We understand there is no clear health risk, although there will be a perceived health risk and parents may react subjectively and remove their children from the nursery.”

Jeni Wood, a town and district councillor, said: “This is a really bad idea and I’m very concerned about the business of the day nursery. It is a very good nursery and I would hate to see it closed purely because we apparently need a larger telephone mast in Henley.

“I can see that it would cause great worry to a lot of parents. Do we really need any more masts? We have good cover for our phones in Henley. Is the picture on a phone really worth more than the health of a child?”

Councillor Joan Bland, who is also a town and district councillor, said: “This may not be a designated place of outstanding natural beauty but in fact it is iconic and a very beautiful place. I think it is absolutely essential that we refuse this application.”

She suggested putting communications cabling underground, adding: “So many things in Henley go up without tremendous thought, without linking up with the infrastructure we already have.”

But Councillor Elizabeth Gillespie (Garsington) said the mast was required and wherever it went it would be visible.

“It is part of our modern-day living and I can’t see we have got good planning reasons to turn it down,” she said.

Councillor John Cotton (Sandford) said: “I am not quite sure that the view from the river is as iconic as we might have been led to believe.

“This whole emotive thing about whether a mast is worth more than a child’s life, I think is just a bit too much. Ten years ago we were having these debates in planning committee and there was a lot less information around.

“These days, the health issues are long gone and settled, even if we could take them into account in planning considerations.

“This mast has got to go somewhere, better that O2 and Vodafone share one mast than have multiple ones. Given the siting next to the railway line, it isn’t the most attractive place in the world, it’s actually quite a suitable site.”

The committee voted by nine votes to two in favour of the application.

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