Mobile phone companies aim for green light

A `traffic light` system that helps network operators assess how much consultation is needed when it comes to siting a new mobile phone mast plus training workshops for local authority officers and elected councillors are among the outcomes of a package of `Ten Commitments` to best practice developed by the UK?s five biggest mobile phone network operators.

In a presentation today (27 June) at the Society for Radiological Protection’s meeting on ’Radio wave exposures’, Mike Dolan, Director of the Mobile Telecoms Advisory Group (MTAG), a special interest group within the Federation of the Electronics Industry (FEI) which focuses on mobile phone issues described the key features of the Commitments and the changes which they have brought about. The `traffic light` system, for instance, aims to install some objectivity into an often emotive area by allowing operators and planners to score answers to questions about the proposed location of a mast (e.g. how near a school or houses?) and evaluate how much consultation is needed. A high score could mean setting up a local drop-in centre where plans are on display and staff can answer questions.

Network operators are so aware of public concern over the siting of masts that Orange, O2, Vodafone, Hutchison 3G and T-mobile last August agreed a set of best-practice promises; now they are gearing up to carry out their first audit to see if the idea is working.

Today, the UK has about 45 million mobile phone users, almost double the number of users two years ago. This vastly increased usage – and the desirability of being able to use a mobile phone almost everywhere ? has inevitably brought with it the need for increasing numbers of masts (or base stations). But while most people are enthusiastic about having a mobile, putting up masts is sometimes perceived as threatening and undesirable.

Following the publication of the Stewart report in 2000, a major government research programme has been set up (funded in part by a £3.68 million contribution from the industry) to investigate the possible health and biological effects of radiofrequency transmissions. The operators? Ten Commitments are primarily intended to address concerns in the community about mobile phone masts, to balance this with the need for further mast development and to provide more support to a planning system not designed or intended to address possible health risks.

The Ten Commitments call for the operators to provide:

  • Clear standards and procedures to deliver better consultation with local communities ? making sure the public is well informed.
  • Early, pre-application consultation with local planning authorities ? helping both the planners to be aware of possibilities and the operators to be aware of possible problems.
  • Clear policies on site sharing, with regular progress reports.
  • Workshops on technology developments in telecommunications ? keeping councillors and local government officers informed.
  • A public database of information, compiled with government, on radio base stations ? the Sitefinder database at http://www.sitefinder.radio.gov.uk.
  • Check all radio base stations comply with international (ICNIRP) safety guidelines and produce a programme for ICNIRP compliance for all radio base stations ? over 20,000 existing stations have now been checked.
  • Provide a certificate of compliance with ICNIRP public exposure guidelines with all planning applications.
  • Have enough staff to respond to complaints and enquiries within 10 working days.
  • Financially support the government?s independent scientific research programme on mobile communications health issues.
  • Develop standard documents for all planning applications ? to make the application process more straightforward.

“We’re making excellent progress with most of these aims”, says Mike Dolan. A steering group is looking at how to streamline site sharing plans and in the last year we’ve delivered more than 50 training workshops around the country. Extra staff are now being recruited to help with this and also with providing a fast response to complaints and queries. The base station database is up and running and the industry is giving £3.68 million towards the government?s independent research programme. We all recognise how important it is to address public concerns over the siting of masts and the consultation process.”

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