SCHOOLS' ANGER AT 'HIDDEN' MOBILE PHONE TRANSMITTER
October 16, 2002
The phone antenna is housed in the price tower at the Shell garage in London Road, Wokingham.
The petrol giant came under fire last week when it was revealed that hundreds of mobile phone antennae were "hidden" in forecourt signs.
Alex Biddle, headteacher of St Crispin's School, said Shell should have consulted the school before installing the antenna.
And Jacqui Bruce, headteacher at the nearby Wescott School, called for a more "open agenda" on the placement of antennae.
Mr Biddle said: "Shell's actions disappoint me — they should have told the school governors that it was there as I'm sure the parents of pupils would also be interested to know.
"We were invited some years ago to put an antenna on our tower block roof which we rejected, because until the evidence on the effects of mast emissions is made quite clear, I would rather be safe than sorry, particularly as there are young children nearby."
The discovery of the five-metre T-Mobile antenna — one of 210 mobile phone antennae at Shell garages — has also angered Cllr John Green, whose Wescott ward contains the Shell garage.
He said: "If they are put up in a residential area without the knowledge of the residents and they haven't had the opportunity to object, then that's wrong, because it should be part of the democratic process that local people should have their voice.
"There ought to be some sort of review across the district council as to where there are safe and reasonable places to put antennae.
"I'm all for softening the environmental impact and the aesthetics could be dealt with sensitively, but it is the health and safety we should primarily be looking at."
But a Shell spokesman defended the siting of the antennae, which are used by various mobile phone service providers.
Mick McMahon, Shell's UK retail director, said: "We believe this service to be a safe and common practice.
"We fully recognise the public's concerns and we are working proactively with the mobile phone companies to ensure ongoing transparency."
However, Jacqui Bruce, headteacher of Wescott Infant School in Wescott Road, said she was not aware the mast was there.
"It would be healthier to have a more open agenda in such an urban situation where more facilities are expected of the same amount of space," she said.
"To have a more transparent mechanism would be helpful, but there is also not enough scientific evidence and information of the implications of such installations.
"Although I have greater concerns about things such as bad driving behaviour as a greater risk to children, emissions may affect children's health.
"However, I'd need to be more informed about the evidence of that."
A Wokingham District Council spokesman said: "According to the General Permitted Development Order 1995, antennae up to 10 metres in height can be attached to a building or structure as long as it is not higher than the structure.
"As, in this case, it is an antenna and not a mast, the company does not need to get development rights, so they do not have to tell us and it would be nothing to do with us.
"But setting up a mast would need permission from us, either by ‘prior approval' or a planning application, depending on the height of the mast."
Network provider Orange also said it currently has transmitter sites at six Texaco petrol stations in the UK, but none of these are at garages in the Wokingham district.
A spokesman for O2 (formerly BT Cellnet) said it was a good way to "soften the overall effects" of mobile phone masts and rejected claims it was unethical practice.
"We want antenna and base station designs that do not heavily impact on the environment and we think we are doing good by softening the overall effects — this is what the local community wants," the spokesman said.
A National Radiological Protection Board report — part of the evidence considered in the Stewart Inquiry into mobile phone safety — found radio wave measurements near base stations were "a small fraction of national and international guidelines".