Plans for a 20m telecoms mast to be installed on the corner of a school playing field in Westgate have been refused by the Department for Education.
The controversial plans drew opposition from the school – St Saviour’s C of E Juniors – parents, councillors and Westgate-on-Sea Cricket Club which uses the field.
Last year the decision was challenged by residents who said it was not lawful because Thanet council wrongly stated the site is not in the Westgate Conservation Area. However, Thanet council said: “This decision is still valid and correct.”
Residents also wrote to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up to ask him to quash the permission.
In November Kent County Council opened public consultation over the land deal with EE Limited and Hutchison 3G Ltd to lease part of the playing field for the telecoms mast.
Work had already started to install a 20m monopole disguised as a Cypress tree but then was halted.
Kent County Council says although it also resisted the application, it had to weigh up the risk of the mast’s location being imposed because of telecoms legislation which give operators significant powers.
The authority says it therefore worked closely with the school, the cricket club, and the operator to redesign the scheme originally proposed to mitigate its impact. The scheme also went through a process where consent is required for the disposal of playing field land, which was applied for in May last year.
The main reasons for refusal stated by the DfE were;
- The school has less than the guideline amount of playing field land at 70% and there were no proposed improvements to sports provision to mitigate the loss of playing field land.
- The School Playing Fields Advisory Panel (which provides independent advice to the minister on such applications) unanimously recommended refusal.
- Neither the school nor the council supported the application.
The DfE also recognised the significant level of objections from the local community relating to the loss of playing field. Some 78 out of the 81 respondents (96%) to the KCC consultation objected to the disposal of school playing field land, with 88% of people in total raising concerns regarding health and safety.
The DfE noted that many objections were based on potential future health risks relating to 5G radiation. The DfE took advice from UK Health Security Agency which held the view that if the operator complied with ICNIRP guidelines (as required by the proposed lease) there should be no consequences to public health. This approach was adopted by officials and ministers and is not a reason for refusal.
‘Removal of works’
A spokesperson for KCC said: “The council was never in favour of siting the mast on the school playing field and we welcome the DfE’s decision.
“The operator has been informed and KCC will be requesting the removal of any works installed under a previous Interim Rights Agreement. This will be in accordance with a timetable to be agreed with the school and Westgate-on-Sea Cricket Club.”
In 2018 a similar application was made but due to Kent County Council planning policy at the time, including there being less than 25 years on lease of the cricket field site and due to the precautionary principle regarding safety of telephone masts near schools, KCC quashed the plans.
During lockdown the new application was submitted and the go-ahead given by Thanet council. There was limited response and residents say they were not aware of the plans or any consultation.
A member of the residents’ group which campaigned against the installation said the refusal was “great news.”