Phone mast gets go ahead after council mistake

A HIGHLY contested mobile phone mast will be built close to three Colchester schools after a council missed a deadline to refuse the application.

Annie Davidson

A HIGHLY contested mobile phone mast will be built close to three Colchester schools after a council missed a deadline to refuse the application.

Despite a wave of public opposition and planning bosses rejecting the mast, the 12-metre structure is to be built at the junction of Norman Way and Lexden Road.

It has been revealed that Colchester borough councillors missed a deadline to decide the application by two days, leaving residents and councillors “shocked and bitterly disappointed”.

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The site is close to St Mary's School, Colchester County High School for Girls and St Benedict's College all of which fiercely opposed the plans.

In January, borough councillors threw out the application - which had been recommended for approval by officers - after receiving 500 letters of objections and deciding the O2 mast would create “visual clutter”.

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In a letter from David Whybrow, development manager for environmental and protective services at the council, to all those affected by the decision, he wrote: “I have subsequently received a letter written on behalf of the applicant, O2, claiming that this decision was taken outside the 56 day period given to the planning authority for determination and therefore O2 have permitted development rights to proceed with the development.”

Mr Whybrow explained that having taken legal advice it became clear that the result should have been made by January 20 - but the deciding committee meeting was not held until January 22.

He added: “Regrettably therefore I have to accept that the agent is correct in his assertion that the developer may proceed with the development as submitted.

“I am obviously aware of the very strong feelings you have on this proposal and realise the huge disappointment you will feel at the contents of this letter.

“I very much regret the error of timing that has occurred and assure you that lessons will be learned for future cases of this type and our procedures will be overhauled to ensure there is no recurrence of the situation.”

Ward councillors Sonia Lewis and Mike Hardy said they had requested a “full enquiry” into the situation and that they were “shocked and bitterly disappointed” at the news.

They said in a joint statement: “Something has gone badly wrong, mistakes have been made and Lexden has to pay the price.

“We spent a great many hours analysing every letter of objection, researching the telecommunications planning policy and putting together a case for refusal.

“We were successful in supporting and representing the resident's wishes and opinions and we are bitterly disappointed that this application should now be approved by default.”

Tim Stevenson, communications manager for O2, confirmed the mast would go up within approximately two months.

“The council had 56 days - that's a long time,” he said.

“They did not come back to us but then later on they did and said they didn't not want it, but it was too late by then.”

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