CONTROVERSIAL plans to site a mobile phone mast next to a popular school were dropped yesterday after hundreds of residents sent out a clear message of protest to a telecoms giant.
Telefonica O2 announced it will not go ahead with erecting the 12.5 metre-high mast outside 450-pupil Darras Hall First School in Ponteland, Northumberland, following a meeting with community leaders.
Instead the company said it will work in partnership with the local community and council planning officers to find an alternative and less sensitive site.
The U-turn is a major victory for campaigners who have opposed putting the mast next to the school or elderly people’s flats on The Broadway.
O2’s decision came after several hundred local people turned up to stage an impressive demonstration prior to yesterday’s meeting in Ponteland United Reformed Church Hall.
Parents, grandparents and children from local schools defied heavy rain to turn out with placards saying No2O2 and greet company representatives arriving for the meeting.
Fences and hedges on roadsides near the school were festooned with large banners saying Education Not Radiation, Brainwaves Not Microwaves and Keep Us From Harm, Put The Mast On A Farm.
02 agreed to meet local MPs and MEPs, county councillors, planning officials and community representatives in a bid to find a compromise solution to the eight-month row.
It has been simmering ever since the company gained planning permission for the school site because of a county council blunder in May last year. Yesterday O2 regional communications manager Tom Powell said: “What we have done today is agree not to proceed with the site which has planning permission. We will now work with the local community and planning authority in order to achieve a suitable solution to this problem.
“We are required to improve mobile coverage for our customers in the Darras Hall area and we will do that.”
Hexham MP Peter Atkinson, who took part in the meeting, said the residents’ demonstration had been fantastic, and he was pleased that 02 would not now go ahead with the school site.
“I don’t believe there has ever been a mobile phone mast protest in the North East with so many people as were here today. It was a huge turnout and O2 were clearly impressed. They have not given a commitment that the mast won’t go up in a residential area, but I believe everyone is satisfied with the progress that has been made.
“I think people high up in O2 have realised they were looking at a public relations disaster here, and they have now acted reasonably and sensibly.”
Businessman Ian McLean, who lives in The Drey, Darras Hall and whose daughter, Lola, is a pupil at the school, said the protest was intended to show O2 that there was a real determination among local residents to fight the mast. He said there were fears about the impacts of phone masts on the health of people living close to them, including worrying evidence of cancer clusters and other problems.
O2 gained planning permission to build the mast next to the school by default in May last year. The county council rejected its planning application, but failed to make the decision within the 56-day period required by law. The mast had been opposed by parents, staff and governors at the school.