Campaigners concerned about the rollout of 5G mobile technology in Wealden called on district councillors to review their planning policies at a meeting this week.
At a full council meeting on Wednesday (November 27), campaigners used a public questions session to quiz Wealden council leaders on the authority’s position on the installation of 5G antennas in the district.
In their questions, campaigners said they were concerned the technology may pose health risks, as it would increase public exposure to electromagnetic radiation in the form of radio waves.
Council leaders, however, said any such decisions would have to be made in line with national planning guidance and health standards, which do not consider the technology to pose a significant risk.
Laying out the authority’s position, cabinet member for planning Ann Newton said: “The council does not have any plans to implement its own standards in this regard but will be following the nationally prescribed standards.
“The council is mindful that government policy, through the National Planning Policy Framework, specifically sets out the following: ‘local planning authorities must determine applications on planning grounds only.
“‘They should not seek to prevent competition between different operators, question the need for an electronic communications system, or set health safeguards different from the International Commission guidelines for public exposure.’”
Campaigners, however, argued the council’s policy would put it in conflict with its other responsibilities to provide public health protections.
In light of this, campaigners asked whether the council would consider a moratorium on planning decisions for 5G antennas until the matter could be investigated further.
They also argued that the national standards set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) are in need of updating, as that they did not take into account the new technology.
This view is not shared by Public Health England (PHE), which says the radiation given off by 5G technology falls well within ICNIRP guidelines.
In advice on its website, a PHE spokesman said: “It is possible that there may be a small increase in overall exposure to radio waves when 5G is added to an existing network or in a new area.
“However, the overall exposure is expected to remain low relative to guidelines and, as such, there should be no consequences for public health.
“PHE is committed to monitoring the evidence applicable to this and other radio technologies, and to revising its advice, should that be necessary.”
The matter was raised later in the meeting by Cllr Dr Patrica Patterson-Vanegas, leader of the council’s Green Party group.
In a question to Cllr Newton, Dr Patterson-Vanegas said: “I couldn’t help but spot a tension between national policy and what some citizens in Wealden are concerned about, in particular our health.
“If there were, and this is purely hypothetical of course, any industry interests fitting national guidelines that would damage the health of our population, then what can local government do? Do we stand aside and watch?”
In response Cllr Newton said there were ‘differing views’ on the issue and the council should follow government guidance.
She said: “I think there is a split in the views. There is no proven health risk at the moment, at any level, and there is there is no guidance telling us there are any health risks. In fact there is the exact opposite.
“I think there has to be an acceptance that there are different views. I have people in my ward who are completely cut off from any mobile phone coverage. It is a worry to them personally and obviously sometimes for commercial reasons.”