Villagers angry over mast plans

Victoria NichollsNetwork Rail has been accused of 'riding roughshod' over the views of villagers in Waveney with plans to put up a radio mast near their homes.Victoria Nicholls

Network Rail has been accused of 'riding roughshod' over the views of villagers in Waveney with plans to put up a radio mast near their homes.

The company says new masts are necessary to upgrade its system, which is going to be rolled out across the UK to replace its analogue radio communications.

Residents in Barnby, near Beccles, say they received letters from Network Rail informing them that within weeks it would be installing a 20m mast on a trackside site it owns.

Ian Bond, from Siding Road, said people were concerned about the potential health implications, property values and the visual impact, and that they were angry about not being consulted.

He said: 'When you talk to local people they know nothing about it. Nobody is going to get the chance to have their say. What really annoyed us is that they are using a bit of a loophole to get round planning permission so they don't have to go for that. Had they applied for planning permission they would have had to have taken these things into account.'

'That's what really has irked us all - there's been no looking at other options, and there are other options.'

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Mr Bond added that the land was near to a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and warned that communities across the country could find themselves in a similar situation, due to 'permitted development' rights, which enable Network Rail to carry out certain works without having to apply for planning permission.

Waveney MP Bob Blizzard, who has stepped in to arrange a meeting with residents and Network Rail to seek a solution, said: 'I'm not convinced by any means that they have found the most suitable site for this mast.'

He said that having permitted development rights did not mean neighbours should not be consulted, adding: 'It doesn't mean you can ride roughshod over local people when there's a sensitive matter involved.'

A Network Rail spokesman said the site was subject to a lot of internal consideration and external consultation with numerous bodies and that it wrote to residents as soon as consultation with these bodies was complete and months ahead of build.

The spokesman said the SSSI and the Broads National Park had been avoided, adding that a site 25m away was considered but that the impact on residents would have been similar and that it would have required an oak tree to be felled.

The spokesman added that emissions operate within health and safety guidelines and are not the same as those for mobile phones. He said the new Railway Communications System (RCS) was based on recommendations from reports into rail accidents.

He said: 'When selecting a site for communications masts we take great care to evaluate the local environment and community issues, as well as choosing a site which meets our operational requirements. The need to provide 100pc coverage is paramount. RCS is safety-critical and gaps in the coverage are unacceptable.'

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