HC Deb 13 July 1999 vol 335 cc156-7
10. Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

What recent representations he has received concerning the siting of telecommunications masts; and if he will make a statement. [89484]

The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning (Mr. Richard Caborn)

My Department received 269 responses to the consultation paper, "Telecommunications Development Control" published in July 1998 and 147 responses to the draft circular, "Land Use Planning and Electromagnetic Fields" published in December 1998. Since then, we have answered 10 parliamentary questions and responded centrally to some 140 letters regarding telecommunications masts.

Mr. Barnes

My right hon. Friend recently made a welcome statement to point out the tightening up of the provisions within those areas. I am concerned about existing telecommunications masts, which may have been placed in areas where they are unacceptable. Many are in school playing fields, right next to schools and to residents. There is one in my constituency on top of a bakery, right next to a residential area, which seems a dangerous position. Are any moves being made to ensure an exclusion zone around telecommunications masts and will it operate for those already in existence?

Mr. Caborn

I appreciate that there is public concern about this issue and we take that seriously. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Public Health and I will be writing to all hon. Members and to local authorities shortly to set out the Government's position on the issue. As the House is aware, our Departments issued jointly for consultation in December the draft of a circular on land use planning and electromagnetic fields. We are considering the responses.

Government experts tell us that the National Radiological Protection Board advises that the strength of radio waves at ground level and in areas normally accessible to the public is many times below the recommended guideline level and should present no health risk. However, we are aware of the public concern that there might be other risks to health, such as cancer. The Government consider it important that high-quality research continues to be carried out. We are involved in research in the United Kingdom and internationally. I stress that the NRPB advises that there is no firm evidence of a causal link between exposure to electromagnetic fields and cancer.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

Could the Minister give an assurance that he will pay particular attention in his review to applications for sites within areas of outstanding natural beauty, including the Chiltern hills? Will he take careful account of the reports that pressure is being exerted to overturn the decision of the local planning authority on Chisleys wood in my constituency? That pressure is coming from Government Departments and the current tenant of Chequers. Will he ensure that he takes all steps within his Department to avoid any conflict of interest in determining the outcome?

Mr. Caborn

It would be inappropriate for me to get involved in a site that was the subject of a particular planning application. There was wide consultation, to which the hon. Gentleman may or may not have responded. We got the support of local authorities, planning authorities and, indeed, the industry. I now believe that there is a sensible approach to the issue. Areas of outstanding natural beauty were taken into consideration in the consultation and the Government responded accordingly.