Protesters still hope to stop Darras Hall phone mast

PROTESTERS were yesterday given renewed hope that controversial plans for a mobile phone mast next to a popular North East school could yet be stopped.

PROTESTERS were yesterday given renewed hope that controversial plans for a mobile phone mast next to a popular North East school could yet be stopped.

Telecoms giant Telefonica O² said there are ‘many discussions still to be had’ before it goes ahead with the 12.5m-high mast next to 450-pupil Darras Hall First School in Ponteland, Northumberland.

Hundreds of parents, local residents and businesses are strongly opposing the mast on The Broadway, which only got approval last year because of a county council planning blunder.

Councillors rejected an application for planning permission, but O² got the green light by default because the authority failed to make the decision within the 56 days required by law.

Last month O² said it was pressing ahead with building the mast next to the school, after a search for alternative sites ended in failure.

But yesterday – as North East MEP Fiona Hall became the latest to enter the fray – the company revealed that talks are still going on behind the scenes in a bid to find a compromise.

Spokesman Tom Powell said the mast would not be going up imminently, adding: “There are many discussions still to be had about this issue. There is much discussion going on within the organisation about how we proceed with this particular site.

“The current thinking is that we will return to our option outside the school. However, we are still discussing potential alternatives as well. Today we have been contacted by the local MEP Fiona Hall and we will also be talking to her.”

The latest move came just hours after members of the county council’s west area planning committee called for an urgent report from officers setting out what options the authority can pursue in a bid to prevent the mast being built.

Yesterday Richard Dodd, who represents Ponteland North, said councillors wanted to know if it was worth making representations to the relevant Government minister or pursuing legal avenues to block a planning consent which had been obtained by default.

“We are being told there is very little we can do about the situation, but there is a feeling that the officers have not done enough and have just rolled over on this. What has happened here is not the fault of Darras Hall residents or councillors, but is the fault of the council.

“I still hope we can actually do something about it and we have asked for a report to our next meeting setting out the options we have. It might not be in the interests of the taxpayers to take further action but we need to find out if there are any loopholes we can use.”

Local parents, school governors and residents oppose the mast because of fears over the potential health impacts of electromagnetic radiation on children.

O² says it has examined a number of alternative sites but suggested by the council, but claims none of them would provide the required coverage for the area. It has dismissed concerns that the mast could be damaging to people’s health.

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