Controversy over Darras Hall phone mast plans

A FRESH row has blown up over plans by a telecoms giant to site a mobile phone mast in the heart of one of the region’s most up-market housing estates.

darras hall phone mast, vivienne whyte

A FRESH row has blown up over plans by a telecoms giant to site a mobile phone mast in the heart of one of the region’s most up-market housing estates.

Earlier this year a bid by Telefonica O2 to put up a 12.5metre-high mast in Broadway, Darras Hall was rejected by Northumberland county councillors, following strong objections from the local first school and a number of residents.

It then transpired that the planning refusal was invalid because it did not happen within the required 56 days of the initial application being received.

The blunder left 02 free to go ahead and install the mast right next to Darras Hall First School – but the company agreed to hold talks with the council on finding an alternative and less sensitive site for the structure.

Now it has submitted a revised application to erect a 15metre-high mast further along Broadway, about 150 to 200 metres from the original site.

But that has angered people living close to the new site, including residents of 20 elderly people’s flats at Darras Mews and families in nearby Wentworth Court.

Objectors are bombarding the county council with letters of protest, saying the problem is simply being moved away from the school and onto their doorsteps.

Vivienne Whyte, 66, who lives in Darras Mews, has been going out with a placard to inform local people about the proposal and urge them to submit objections to the county council.

She said: “I have been quite amazed by the number of people who thought this was all dead and buried after the school objected. I understand that parents were concerned about the health risks, but what about the old and frail people along here who are equally vulnerable.

“This mast is also going to be a horrific eyesore. Nothing has changed since the original site was discussed, except that they have chosen to move it closer to where old people live.”

Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for the Hexham constituency, Andrew Duffield, who yesterday joined Vivienne and other locals in demonstrating against the plan, said: “This mast is in a sensitive location near a school and a play group, not to mention people’s homes. Concerns over children’s health are clear and substantial.

“O2’s obsession with this site is bizarre when a perfectly reasonable alternative location has already been put forward by local stakeholders.”

The county council’s planning department was accused by Darras Hall First School of ‘gross mismanagement’ following the fiasco earlier this year.

As well as the school, there were 18 letters of objection from residents on the grounds of radiation hazard, clutter, over dominance, highway safety and visual impact. O2 community relations officer, Jim Stevenson, said: “The county council told us the previous site was the wrong one for a mast so we agreed to look for an alternative, which is what we have now come up with. We hope our new application will be acceptable to the planners.” A council spokesman said: “This revised application will have to go through the normal planning process and we expect a report to go to the planning committee on November 5.”

No one at Darras Hall First School responded to requests for a comment on the new bid.

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