Residents miffed by mobile mast mix up

Council ‘error’ meant mast was granted consent despite intention to reject it, reports Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter

Richard and Elizabeth beneath the mobile phone mast (credit LDRS)
Richard and Elizabeth beneath the mobile phone mast (credit LDRS)

Chingford residents have been left furious after Waltham Forest Council’s “regrettable” error meant it missed the deadline to reject a new 5G mast.

In an email seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the council confirmed “a procedural error” meant it rejected plans for a 20-metre mast in Royston Avenue one day too late.

Despite this meaning they had “deemed consent” to go ahead, applicant Three negotiated with the council and submitted a new application for a 15m mast, which was accepted.

However, aggrieved neighbours argue that the threat of Three going ahead with its original plans forced the council to accept the second application, making the process pointless.

The council argues that, once the agreed changes were made, “there were no grounds for rejecting” the plans, as it was the “most acceptable and least intrusive position” possible.

Neighbours Richard Hunt and Elizabeth Shui told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that they and others were angered by the mast’s unsightliness – and the noise of the fans used to cool it.

A physical petition objecting to the mast has received around 200 signatures, more than half of which were from concerned parents at nearby Ainslie Wood Primary School.

Elizabeth said: “It’s ugly and incongruent. We can all see it and it’s not something you really want to look at. There’s that noise constantly so we don’t enjoy being in the garden anymore.

“The second application was just them going through the motions for no reason. This will impact all our generations in the future, because of an error.”

Richard was particularly angry that the council did not initially admit it had missed the deadline, something he discovered after emailing the team at Three.

He said: “There was no disclosure at all and no apology to anyone about the fact it has happened. 

“The council said house prices, visual impact and noise are not a [reason to reject] so essentially local residents like me and Elizabeth are pure collateral damage.”

The government, as part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to achieve full-fibre coverage across the UK by 2025, legally limits the grounds on which councils can reject new 5G masts. The only planning considerations councils such as Waltham Forest can consider are the mast’s location and appearance.

In another email to Richard, a council employee said that, while the late rejection was “regrettable”, there was “no material harm caused” as the original mast was never installed.

Responding to a request for comment, a council spokesperson said the first application was rejected last August last year “in part for its excessive height”.

They said: “A second application for a 15m mast was submitted in September. Given that this is a difficult area to erect a mast that is not directly in front of people’s homes or in a more visually detrimental position, this was agreed. 

“In both applications, people living within 150m of the proposed sites were consulted directly and site notices were put up in the local area, the application was also put online, and appeared in the local media.

“Government planning guidance states that planning decisions should support the expansion of electronic communications networks, including next generation mobile technology (such as 5G). 

“This was the most acceptable and least intrusive position for the mast. Once the changes had been agreed to, there were no grounds for rejecting the second application.”