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Could you live without your mobile phone? (and O2 mentions a phantom "no risk" report)
United Kingdom Created: 20 Jun 2007
THERE are at least five within 100 metres of the Clock Tower on Crouch End Broadway. The rooftops along Muswell Hill Broadway and Wood Green's town centre are also lined with them.

And on the streets below everyone is jabbering into a mobile phone.

While people love the flexibility and low cost of mobiles they are not so at ease with their inevitable by-product - a giant mast on their doorstep.

Battle lines have been drawn countless times in Haringey as one of the many mobile phone giants is given planning permission for another base station to cope with growing demand.

Placards, signs and demonstrations have become commonplace as residents' and campaign groups have focussed on the potential health risks of phone masts, particularly when they are sited near schools or nurseries.

Sarah Purdy, who has fronted a campaign against them in Muswell Hill for over two years, has urged planning bosses to take potential health risks into account at the planning stage - something they are unable to do at the moment.

Mrs Purdy said: "I think with mobile phone use it is Russian roulette. It's like smoking. However, I think with being in the main beam of a phone mast all day and all night, it destroys the immune system. So not everyone gets cancer but if you look at that school where they have been in the main beam 15 years, 14 out of 30 teachers were sick."

She added: "The Stewart Report that was done in 2000 is being completely ignored by the government and that did recommend a precautionary principle. They said the main beam of a phone mast should not fall onto schools.

"It was taken on in the Department of Education but not in planning law."

Residents can often feel powerless as mobile operators apply to put masts in their areas. Appeals to the planning authorities fall on deaf ears as they can only turn applications down on environment issues - such as whether they unacceptably clutter the pavement - not as a potential health hazard.

Lynne Featherstone, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, has backed a parliamentary private members bill by her Liberal Democrat colleague, Andrew Stunell, calling for tighter health restrictions.

Ms Featherstone said: "That would make health grounds an objection you can make against mobile masts. The point is it's raising exactly the right issue. At the moment many a planning application goes through because there's not a reason to refuse it.

"I think people are very concerned. At the same time they use mobile phones. And therefore I don't think you can put the mobile phone genie back into the bottle. But nevertheless, I think you can go along with the precautionary principle."

She added: "All mobile phone companies should have an obligation to work together and to share masts. They should work with local people when choosing sites. They should find out more about local areas."

Recent anti-mast campaigns have seen controversy rage over a mast in St Peter Le Poer Church, in Colney Hatch Lane, Muswell Hill, with accusations that it could be used to send pornographic imagery.

There was also outrage when it was discovered Haringey council was receiving £10,000 a year for accommodating one on Hornsey Town Hall's roof.

There was also a long-running campaign against masts on the old BT exchange in Grand Avenue, Muswell Hill, which is close to more than one school. And the council's River Park House building even has one on its roof.

Haringey is one of a clutch of councils which has agreed to put pressure on the government over the worries faced by residents. But it stopped short of adopting the "precautionary principle" - which would enable the council to reject applications for masts on the grounds of potential health risks.

The government-funded Stewart Report, concluded seven years ago, was the last major investigation into mobile phone masts. Technology has moved on since then.

James Stevenson, communications manager for O2, which recently sited a mast in Muswell Hill, said: "If the government changes the legislation, which is unlikely, we would not be too fussed with that. We could cope with the government change.

"I think the industry would welcome another Stewart Report - even though there's been another report which again proves there's no ill health effects.

"It's still quite a useful piece of work. We've got a lot of evidence from a lot of scientific organisations who have looked at it and found absolutely nothing as far as health and safety concerns."

He added: "We understand how people feel and we try as best we can to explain to them what we are doing and how the industry works.
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Source: Hornsey and Crouch End Journal, 20 Jun 2007

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