5G: locals demand a say on where masts are installed in South Ribble amid controversy over 60-foot-high structure in Penwortham

Councillors in South Ribble are demanding that they and their residents are given a say over where new telecoms masts are sited after plans emerged to install a 60-foot tall one in Penwortham.

By Paul Faulkner
Monday, 31st January 2022, 7:41 pm
Updated Monday, 31st January 2022, 8:11 pm

Under current planning rules, infrastructure for the high-speed 5G broadband network – which is currently being rolled out nationwide – is classed as “permitted development”. That means that poles of up to 30 metres (98 feet) in height can be erected at the roadside without going through the usual planning application process – and so denying councils a role in deciding where the equipment is placed.

At a South Ribble Borough Council meeting, members called for local authority planning committees to be allowed to make the final decision over the installation of 5G masts – and the two-metre-high “base station” boxes that go with them – in order to give locals a voice.

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Penwortham residents join South Ribble Borough Council's Liberal Democrat group leader David Howarth (centre) and Broad Oak ward councillor Angela Turner (to his left) in protest at being denying a say in plans to build a new 5G mast on Blackthorn Drive

The issue was raised in a notice of motion by Liberal Democrat councillor Angela Turner who said that people living on Blackthorn Drive in her Broad Oak ward in Penwortham had been left frustrated after learning that they would be powerless to block plans for a new 5G mast on the residential route, close to the junction with Broad Oak Lane.

“The mast in question will be nearly twice as high as the existing street lights and many of our trees. Current planning legislation denies any rights [for] the residents to have a means to object or put their opinions forward – a disgrace.

“The government has made great play about the role of residents in having a say about what happens in the communities they live in. But when it comes to telecommunications masts and accompanying boxes, the views of local communities are completely ignored,” said Cllr Turner, who added that the Blackthorn Drive area already had some of the fastest broadband speeds in Penwortham.

Seconding the motion, Liberal Democrat group leader David Howarth said that 5G infrastructure in areas where it was needed – such as rural communities with poor connectivity – was “more than welcome”.

Markings on the grass foretell of the 5G mast and base box to come to this Penwortham street

However, he condemned what he described as the current “free for all” for telecoms companies – and contrasted it with stricter planning laws governing other tall structures.

“If I wanted to do my bit for the climate emergency and I wanted to erect a wind turbine, I would…have to go to the community and do a pre-application consultation to see if they would be happy for me to put the turbine up – and that is for a hub height of any turbine exceeding 15 metres.

“I would [also] have to see if that type of development had been allocated space in the local or neighbourhood plan .

“The [government says] that if we roll out this 5G network, it will provide better and faster mobile broadband and enable new innovations in industry sectors like manufacturing, health and transport.

“Can I just point out that there is no industry, no manufacturing, no health centre – [just] a 119 bus every hour – on Blackthorn Drive where they want to put this,” said Cllr Howarth, who also noted that the junction boxes that spring up alongside the masts are often taller than the average person.

5G will not only improve broadband speeds for existing devices such as smartphones, but also open up the possibility for generating new smart machinery-powered services which require the next generation of wireless technology.

Conservative councillor for Moss Side Michael Green said that 5G was clearly “the future…in the same way that roads and railways were in the past”.

However, he added: “The planning process is there for a very valid reason…and it takes into account the pros and cons of any development. And, importantly, it’s [there] to take on the views of the local community.

“In my own ward, we have got a succession of telecommunications masts in one particular area and they are an eyesore. The local community stood against them and did everything they could [and] we stood against them as councillors…but ultimately approval was given, because it was very difficult to stop.

“There needs to be a check and a balance on it,” Cllr Green said.

Meanwhile, Cllr Keith Martin – Labour member for the Middleforth ward – called for highways authorities like Lancashire County Council to be given a say in telecoms installations at the roadside given the “millions of pounds [spent] on our public realm” in order to keep it looking good.

The meeting heard that County Hall is also currently unable to object to the erection of 5G masts.

South Ribble Borough Council’s chief executive will now write to the government – and MPs whose constituencies lie within the authority’s area – to request that planning legislation is changed so that locals can contribute to the decision-making process in relation to 5G masts in the same way as they can for most other proposed developments.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD WITH 5G?

Telecommunications regulator OFCOM says that 5G technology is being used and tested across a number of sectors and, it claims, is “benefiting people and businesses”..

It sets out various ways in which 5G is already changing the way we live – and could do so further in the future

***Social care – one local council has installed 5G nodes on lampposts to create a network aimed at helping those in need of assistance. So far, it has helped to keep patients and their families connected via virtual reality, as well as enabling biomonitors to detect whether patients are dehydrated. It is also being used to connect video systems that allow pharmacists to remotely check whether patients are taking their medication.

***Healthcare – one mobile network is currently trialling ‘smart ambulances’ equipped with 5G technology, which will explore how patients could be treated in an emergency by connecting paramedics with hospital staff. 5G also enables technology that allows medical students to practice surgery in a connected, virtual reality environment that reflects the real-life experience – even allowing them to ‘feel’ the surgery they are being trained to deliver.

***Farming – by powering autonomous agricultural kit, 5G enables machines to scour fields using a video sensor and apply fertilisers and pesticides exactly where they are needed, thereby saving resources and boosting efficiency.

***Transport – 5G could be used to improve parking, traffic management and street lighting.

***Manufacturing – using smart machinery, companies can provide and react to real-time data in order to improve efficiency.

Source: OFCOM

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