A phone base station will be upgraded to provide 5G coverage despite residents’ concerns about the impact on their health and views.
Families have also hit out at the timing of the application by Mobile Broadband Network Limited.
The firm sought prior approval from Stafford Borough Council for the upgrade in April – just weeks after the country went into lockdown in a bid to reduce the spread of coronavirus. But the council has said it does not have any control when an application is submitted.
A report to its planning committee stated: “A timely decision must be made on this type of prior approval telecommunications application otherwise permission can be granted by default.”
Nine objections were submitted to the borough council in response to the plans for replacement of existing masts at the water tower at Common Lane, Meir Heath.
The site has been used as a telecommunications base station for 25 years, the committee heard. The work will see the six antennae currently located replaced with six new ones.
Currently, the highest point of three of the antennae is 16.2 metres. But two of the replacements will be 16.8 metres at their highest point.
Resident Geoff Boulton, who spoke against the proposal at the meeting, said: “We are anxious about the cumulative impact of the existing and proposed antenna. No studies conclusively state they are safe.
“With regard to health, some say there are no risks. Others say there are. Who do we believe?
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“Residents have complained of constant buzzing from the cooling unit – even at night. Properties are sited only 20 metres away and there are a lot of retired people living close to the water tower, who have been self-isolating during the pandemic for their health.
“I hope you will consider their physical and mental health as you talk about this installation. This will impact on their visual amenity.
“The access to the tower is very narrow and large vehicles are needed to install these masts. These vehicles tend to mount the pavement
“Is it not time to say enough is enough? This site is not fit for purpose anymore.”
Councillor Michael Dodson, who represents the Fulford ward where the water tower is located, called the application in for consideration by the planning committee on the grounds it would be ‘unacceptable and dominating for the houses surrounding the water tower’.
He told the meeting there were two schools near the site, as well as homes just metres from the tower. And the enclosures for the new antennae would be larger than before.
“We will have an enormous increase in size or massing of the proposed antennas”, he said. “This is a residential site – it is not in a rural location contributing to the rural spread of communications.
“It transforms an elegant water tower built in the 1930s into a pin cushion of large antennae.”
The prior approval decision limited the council to considering siting and appearance of the proposed upgrade. Planning officers recommended approval should be given ahead of the meeting.
The report to the committee added: “The Government is committed to extending mobile geographical coverage further across the UK, and the enabling and planning for 5G implementation is central to achieving the Government’s objective to deliver prosperity at the local level and enable all places to share in the proceeds of growth.
“The application is submitted to support the aims of the Government in extending mobile coverage and in particular 5G, as the proposed antenna and supporting equipment is required to create the power and capacity that the 5G frequency demands.”
Six committee members voted in favour of approving the application and three were against.
Councillor Jack Kemp said: “The size of these enclosures is the thing that bothers me very much.”
But fellow committee member Andrew Harp said: “Everybody has moved on – everybody has phones. You can’t even get a signal at the top of the crossroads.
“All they are doing is replacing aerials. There are no more aerials going on than there was before. I don’t see any reason we cannot approve this.
“It is a Government thing and we need to go along with it and approve it. It has been there for 25 years and people live with it. People have moved into properties and know what’s there.”