Legal campaign against mobile phone masts “irrational”?

Scientists advising the Government concluded that radio masts were “unlikely to pose a risk to health” and found that, while handsets might be a greater risk because they expose people to more radiation, “overall evidence was inconclusive”. The report reviewed hundreds of scientific papers published all over the world looking for evidence of adverse effects of mobile phones and masts, and concluded that “in aggregate, the research published in the past three years does not give cause for concern”.

According to Professor Lawrie Challis, chairman of the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Group, exposure from a base station was “thousands of times less” than that from a phone. “As a scientist, I think it’s surprising that someone who uses a mobile phone, and gets far more exposure from that, should be concerned about base stations,” he said.

“It’s at best economical with the truth to say that ‘in aggregate’ research doesn’t show adverse health effects,” commented Alan Meyer, legal director of Mast Action UK and a consultant at London firm Bircham Dyson Bell. He cites a “highly regarded and respected” study commissioned independently by the Dutch government, which in September last year found “statistically significant adverse health effects” linked to third generation (3G) mobile phone masts.

Mast Action UK campaigns against “the insensitive siting” of masts and Meyer advises on average four people a week on how to object to local planning authority applications. “It’s virtually impossible to get a mast down once it’s up and so the critical stage is to try and stop it going up in the first place,” he said.

There has been recent case law that has assisted the cause. In Yasmin Skelt v First Secretary of State and Three Bridges District Council and Orange in September last year, the Government conceded an appeal against the Planning Inspector’s decision letter in favour of Orange on the grounds stated in the consent order that the Inspector failed “to adequately consider the weight to be given to health concerns”. The inspector had argued that, because the mast conformed to International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines, “there was no need to consider health concerns”. Meyer argued that this landmark judgment meant that ICNIRP certification was “by itself insufficient”. He pointed to a 1997 Court of Appeal ruling stating that “genuine public fear and concern is a material planning consideration to be taken into account by the decision-maker”. Such “public fear and concern” can relate to health worries, he added.

A more recent ruling, Jodie Phillips v First Secretary of State and Havant Borough Council and Hutchinson 3G concerned an expectant mother who won a High Court victory against a mobile phone mast which she feared could harm her family’s health. Mr Justice Richards ruled that not only had people’s fears had to be taken into account, but the question for the network operator, concerning the location of the mast and base station, was not just whether it was an “acceptable location”, but whether it the “best location”? The judge then stated that “for the purposes of answering that question, one can and should look at whatever alternative possibilities there may be”.

“The Jodie Phillips ruling was useful because it gave an opportunity for a judge to set out the sort of questions you’re meant to ask,” said Meyer.