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|Wales||Created: 13 Jul 2005|
Welsh national Assembly Speach on TETRA
Bourne: Tetra – the case for control
Speech to the National Assembly for Wales.
"Tetra, or terrestrial trunked radio, the digital cell phone system that the Government has chosen for the police, has been causing anxieties since the masts started to be erected to support the system in 2001.
Tetra, like mobile phone systems, uses masts or base stations. The advantages of the system for the police are well known.
The system offers the user fairly secure communications that, like all other digital radio technologies, deliver clear speech.
It allows users to talk in a group with radios, and to talk to other users with similar digital systems elsewhere.
It has a help button that enables the user to
call for assistance very quickly. Other facilities, such as the ability to look up police computer information, are said to be possible in the future.
Without doubt, there are many advantages to the system. However, there are also associated potential health risks related to the signal strength and
associated electromagnetic fields.
Tetra technology has not been tested to ascertain whether it is safe over the medium or long term. It is a microwave system, like ordinary mobile phones,
but the masts talk to each other directly, and, unlike mobile phone masts, they transmit 24 hours a day.
Signals are sent in pulses or bursts, which are transmitted at a frequency that coincides with the electrical frequency of the human brain in its waking state.
Its amplitude is modulated at a rate of 1765 Hz, very close to the beta waves of the human brain, which pulse at 16 Hz. It has the potential to interfere with, and overwhelm, normal bodily functions
This may sound terribly Dr Who, but systems that pulse at a similar frequency to Tetra were investigated for their potential as non-lethal weapons by
the US during the cold war.
Tetra has been known to have an effect on pacemakers, baby alarms, medical equipment—including first aid heart defibrillators—and vehicle electronics.
I know that Assembly Members from all parties have some of these concerns.
Although much research has to be done on the siting of masts, the potential risk cannot be ignored, and must be factored in to any consideration on
the siting of the masts.
It is the issue that is of primary concern to me in this debate. At the moment, the stringent planning conditions that apply to other forms of construction
do not apply to Tetra phone masts.
Assembly planning guidance Technical Advice Note 19 sets out guidance on the siting of the masts and the specific situations where planning permission
is not needed.
One of these exemptions is where the height of the mast is less than 15m. Importantly, this also applies where such a mast is placed on top of an existing building.
This loophole, as I see it, has recently been exposed by a case in Haverfordwest. I have had a great deal of correspondence on the matter, as have other Assembly Members.
I am sure that some other suitable location could be found for this Tetra mast. It should not be sited on top of a police station in the centre of a busy town.
The police station is right in the centre of Haverfordwest, in probably the most densely populated area in the county, and is in close proximity to eight schools, seven of which are primary schools, and one of which is a special needs school.
Parents and concerned residents in the town are campaigning hard for the removal of the mast, and I strongly support them, as do others.
Stephen Crabb, the MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, with whom I am working closely on the issue, told me that Tetra has been the biggest single component
of his mail bag since he was elected in early May—such is the concern about the issue.
We have both written, as I know have others, to the managing director of O2 Airwaves, which is responsible for the mast, asking for it to be moved or
turned off until such a time as it can be agreed that the mast be sited elsewhere.
Unfortunately, this request did not get very far, to say the least.
It is fair to say that there is no illegality involved. Local authorities and the company have complied with the law.
They are following Assembly Government guidance, clearly illustrated in a letter that I received in May from Pembrokeshire County Council, which said that
if the telecommunications equipment complies with International Commission for Non-ionising Radiation Protection guidelines on power emissions,
it should not be necessary for a local planning authority, in processing an application for planning permission or prior approval, to consider further
health aspects and concerns about them.
In my opinion, that is totally wrong—not legally, but in terms of common sense and morality.
Masts under 15m should be subject to the same planning considerations as those above that height, but, in all cases, I am keen to see a change
in the planning system so that proper account is taken of health considerations at the planning stage, which does not happen at the moment.
The lack of public consultation is naturally a major cause of grievance in people who suffer a loss of amenity when masts are erected without adequate consultation.
I consider, as do others, the current situation to be unacceptable. This is, of course, not only a matter of health risks. There is the problem that the siting
of base stations, particularly masts, can result in a loss of amenity and almost certainly a reduction in the value of property
Furthermore, the frustrations and concerns have a negative effect on people's health and wellbeing.
A mapping exercise should be undertaken in each local authority area to ascertain the most appropriate sites for masts away from residential developments,
like Usmeston on the outskirsts of Haverfordwest, which is being considered and has been the subject of unsuccessful applications in the past.
They should certainly be sited away from schools, but schools in Haverfordwest are affected by the mast on the police station. I know that that has been a concern elsewhere in Wales.
Stewart conducted a review of the position on mobile and Tetra masts, and I strongly support many of the findings. For example, it recommended that a
national register of base stations should be established
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