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Possible health risks of mobile phones

I am frequently contacted by constituents worried about planning applications for telecommunications masts. The following is the reply I have sent to the most recent such enquiry:

22 August 2003

Dear (constituent),

Thank you for your email with a copy of your objection to the extension of the GSM mast at Windsor House (and also indirectly your concern about the proposed TETRA radio mast for Kings Heath Police Station).  As you are probably aware, this planning application for the latter was turned down by the Development Control Committee of the City Council on 14 August.  However the applicants still have the right to appeal to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM).  In view of the fact that the Committee decision went against the recommendation of the Chief Planning Officer who points out that Government Planning Guidance (PPG8) advises against refusal on health grounds of any proposal that complies with International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines, an appeal seems likely.  It is also likely that any appeal will be upheld, with the City Council picking up the costs.

The other ground for refusal of this type of development (as you have grasped in your objection) is visual intrusion and this could be taken into account in consideration of the Windsor House application.  I will write to Planning supporting your objection on this ground but not on health grounds. This is because, whilst I appreciate that many people are concerned about the possible effects on health of telecommunications masts, after much consideration, I have come to the conclusion that these fears are unfounded.

When I was a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee, we investigated the possible health risks of mobile phones and, in response, the Government set up an expert Committee under William Stewart. The Government accepted the recommendations of the Stewart Report which was generally in agreement with our Commons’ Committee.

We did not consider TETRA but Stewart did and concluded that it was unlikely that the specific features of TETRA could pose risks to health.  In addition, a more recent study was commissioned by the National Radiological Protection Board from a group chaired by the eminent epidemiologist Sir Richard Doll (who first identified the links between lung cancer and smoking).  They too concluded that it is unlikely that the special features of the signals from TETRA mobile terminals and repeaters pose a hazard to health.

I have obtained some information about TETRA from the House of Commons Library (which includes further information about the studies mentioned above) and I enclose a copy for your information [Web note: if you are a constituent, and would like a copy of this note, please email me]. I have also asked the Library specialist to carry out some further work for me regarding allegations made in a “briefing” by an organisation calling itself Mast Sanity which is currently doing the rounds.

Specifically in relation to the Gerald Hyland paper to which you refer, I think it is important to note that this paper has not been published in any peer-reviewed journal.  Gerald Hyland raises the possibility of non-thermal effects of microwave radiation.  This evidence was submitted to our Select Committee, and was considered in our Report (and in the other reports I mention).  You will appreciate that the logic of Hyland’s arguments is that all mobile telecommunications systems should be banned.  Whilst I would advise that use of handsets (which give a higher dose of radiation than would a base station) should be minimised, I doubt if the public would accept a ban on mobile phones justified only on the basis of uncorroborated evidence.

As you may have gathered, I believe that mobile phone handsets represent a greater hazard than telecommunications masts and, for this reason, support Government guidance (as in PPG8) on planning applications for telecommunications masts.  My record shows that I am not afraid to criticise Government when I feel it is appropriate to do so however on this particular issue I seem to be having to upset my constituents rather than the Government!

Yours sincerely,



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