Wednesday, 4 October 2006
Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government
Question 315: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the erection of mobile phone masts in close proximity to schools and densely populated residential areas; his further view on the expressed concerns of school authorities and local communities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31185/06]
In general, planning permission must be sought for the erection of an antenna support structure or mast. In July 1996 my Department issued Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Telecommunications Antennae and Support Structures. Their purpose was to assist planning authorities, An Bord Pleanála, operators of mobile telecommunications services and the general public by providing guidance on dealing with telecommunications masts and base stations within the planning system.
The Guidelines advise that "in the vicinity of larger towns and city suburbs operators should endeavour to locate in industrial areas or in industrially zoned land". They advise that "only as a last resort should free-standing masts be located within or in the immediate surrounds of smaller towns or villages" and also that "only as a last resort should free standing masts be located in a residential area or beside schools". Planning authorities must have regard to the Guidelines in considering applications for permission for new masts in their areas.
The Planning and Development Regulations 2001 set out certain limited exemptions for telecommunications infrastructure and equipment. These include subject to certain conditions, the attachment of additional antennae to an existing antenna support structure, the replacement of an existing antenna support structure and the attachment of antennae to certain existing structures, such as telegraph poles, electricity pylons and certain public or commercial buildings. These exemptions specifically exclude attaching antennae to existing structures such as educational facilities, childcare facilities and hospitals. These Regulations were the subject of extensive debate in the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment and Local Government, and were subsequently approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas.
It is a matter for each local authority to ensure that developments permitted in their area conform to these standards.
Following the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Report on Non-ionising radiation from mobile phone handsets and masts of June 2005, an inter-departmental advisory committee and an expert group, working to the committee, has been established to provide advice on the appropriate action to be taken on foot of the recommendations contained in the Oireachtas Committee report. The work of the committee and expert group is in train and I expect it to be finalised by the end of 2006, following which appropriate action will be addressed.