LETTER: The protest was about education not confrontation

I write in reply to the reportage of the parish council meeting in Framfield Memorial Hall where the public were allowed to comment on the erection of a 50ft Base Station Telecoms mast in Framfield Recreation Ground.

Readers will know this has been agreed unanimously by the parish council and yet rather than being magnanimous or conciliatory in their ‘victory’ over the 600+ people who opposed the site – or the small group of NIMBY-ists as we have been described by the Chairman of the Framfield Parish Council – the council leaders have elected to present themselves as victims of threat, violence and intimidation.

Nothing could be further from the truth and insults all who had the right to disagree with their decision and who acted legally and with admirable restraint. The whole focus of the protest was to instil caution into the debate over the appropriateness of the site being among WW1 memorial trees and the globally publicised health concerns given its proximity to the public playground and primary school. If there is a Base Station Mast closer to a toddlers’ playground I’d like to know about it. The protest was about education not confrontation and the bitterness that has sadly arisen has been directly due to the intransigence of the parish council and the way it has conducted itself throughout the proceedings.

The protest group consists of conservationists, health workers, academics, parents, charity workers, fundraisers and old age pensioners like me – hardly the rabid pitchfork-wielding gang portrayed in complaints from council members.

At a public meeting held by the protesters in the Memorial Hall in the summer, it was emphasised that the protest would and should not engage in personal attacks on any members of the parish council. It may well be the case that parishioners not directly associated with the protest group may have sent unwelcome emails as the frustration with the parish council developed over the autumn and that is of course very regrettable. But had the parishioners’ views been sought and considered at the onset of negotiations with the Telecoms’ contractors, the divisive damage done to the Framfield community over the subsequent months would have been avoided and tempers defused.

It is also regrettable that the Framfield School governors were told that if the mast were not to be erected in the recreation ground it would be put up in virtually the same place in private land immediately behind a dividing hedge and thus be of financial benefit to the landowner not the parish. In my discussions with the local vicar and governor of this C of E school he stated that he was very convinced by this argument. This was revealed as a blatant untruth used to persuade the governors and others of the case for the mast in the recreation ground, as the landowner in question would not allow such an excrescence on her land. This point was discussed at the meeting and the clerk to the parish council, (who is also the district councillor and correspondent for the trust that administers the hall and recreation ground) admitted that it had been a ‘mistake’ and that the notice given on the PC website advising visitors that the proposed public meeting would be on another date was also a ‘mistake’.

It is these ‘mistakes’ that have niggled away at the protesters’ patience and have caused the debate to become far more acrimonious. Whether the PC has the legal right to agree to the mast erection is also ambiguous as the land was gifted to the village under terms that seem to preclude the siting of a steel mast. While maintaining that the PC ‘owns’ the land it was later forced to reluctantly admit it was a ‘gift’ though that confusing and foggy discussion is ongoing.

So pending a report due this month from the World Health Organisation, possibly advising governments and councils to err on the side of caution (as already adopted by many other countries in Europe, Asia, Australasia and Scandinavia) and suggesting not siting these masts within 500 metres of the public and particularly schools – where the effects of constant low-power radiation on immature brain tissue remains unknown – the mast will be up and buzzing early next spring. So why did the parish council make this decision? We were told ‘it’s not about the money’ though the chairman stated last week that after researching offers made elsewhere, the PC had managed to crank up the original offer from the contractors from £30,000 to £40,000, clearly, nothing to do with money then. But if not the money, what was it all about? Was it worth dividing the parish, the loss of trust in the parish council and its clerk with her district political agenda, only to create a 25-year legacy of 50ft of aesthetically monstrous steel in order for Vodafone and O2 subscribers get a stronger signal?

Well of course it was about money. Roughly 20p in fact, the amount per hour the Framfield Parish Council will receive for their efforts in agreeing the lease on our once pretty and peaceful recreation ground, and where the Framfield occupants of distant WW1 graves are heard to be turning.

P A Leader

Framelle Mount