Cell mast frustration

Disgruntled residents Jerome Kiley, Christine Bell, Kirsten Molyneaux, Bronwyn Lloyd and Carl Raymer.

Residents in a quiet enclave of Plumstead have taken to the streets twice to protest about a cellphone mast to be erected on their doorstep.

Standing across the road, in front of the Dutch Reformed Church in Ophir Road, they waved placards – “Selfish church sacrifices our children”, “Weg met toring van cell”, “No cell masts near our homes”, “Not in residential zone” and “NG loves money, not God, or people”.

Residentssurroundingthe church received registered letters about the application in November last year. The initial plan was for a 25m-high mast designed as an artificial tree at the church. It would have nine sector antennas and three equipment containers. The property was to be rezoned from single residential to utility zone.

The properties surrounding the church are middle income, suburban, residential of 750m2 to 900m2, with a value between R2.5 million and R3.5 million. Residents fear their properties will be devalued if the mast goes up.

The City of Cape Town received 48 objections, most of these raising concerns about health risks many believe to be associated with cellphone masts.

Tracy-Jean Rossouw, who lives nearby in Basil Road with her six children, said there were five masts in the area, and there was no problem with cellphone reception on any networks.

“The structure will be an eye-sore to surrounding neighbours. But I’m more concerned about the saturation of micro radio waves and electromagnetic energy that results from flows of electricity,” she said.

Gina Fuller, who lives directly across the road from the church, said the cellphone mast would be the first thing seen from all living spaces in her home.

“I pray they (scientists) are right about there being no concerns regarding health and electromagnetic radiation,” she said.

Ms Fuller said she had bought the house in good faith based on the value and the zoning regulations of that area.

“To suddenly change the zone of the property from residential to utility could change the market value of our house and its saleability overnight, knocking our investment back years. It’s devastating and impacts our constitutional rights,” said Ms Fuller.

Jerome Kiley, who lives next to the church, said residents had been stressed since hearing about the application.

“We appealed to church personnel who have ignored all correspondence and our protests. The only response was after sending an email to the synod who responded, saying we would bring the church’s reputation down,” said Mr Kiley.

He added that during one protest the dominee had come out of the church but had said it was not for him to comment.

Mr Kiley said two similar applications close to the church had been refused in the past. One had been at Wittebome station, the other at Spar in the Main Road.

Motivation for the application is that of many complaints of dropped calls received from companies in and around Plumstead.

Occupational therapist Christine Bell, who lives two houses away from the church, said she had phoned the three main service providers and none of them had experienced complaints of dropped calls for Plumstead.

“There are many reasons for dropped calls, one of which could be a problem of a caller outside of Plumstead whose network is inadequate or their device’s settings are incorrect,” said Ms Bell.

Another motivation given for the mast is that of a positive economic benefit to the area because of the increased network strength brought by the development.

The application states that alternative sites were considered, but this option is deemed the most acceptable in terms of visual impact. But residents feel the sports ground in Victoria Road or the cemetery would be more suitable.

Jerome Kiley and Jeremy Broom made oral representations at the Municipal Planning Tribunal meeting on Tuesday March 20 and the application was granted with conditions that the height of the cell mast be limited to 15m (and not 25m) with the design integrated as a steeple as part of the adjacent church and the mast must not be close to the property boundary but further away from the neighbours.

Now, some residents are threatening to sell up and move on. Others fear the mast might, in future, be extended.

The Bulletin sent question to Protea Sub-council manager Richard White and Ward 73 councillor Carol Bew on Thursday May 31.

Mr White said the application fell within Ward63councillorMontyOliver’s area. Emails were forwarded to him and he responded on Tuesday June 5 to say City planner Pierre Hoffa should respond, this despite him knowing that City officials are not allowed to speak to the media.

Hannes Koegelenberg, dominee of Plumstead Dutch Reformed Church, said Atlas Towers had approached the church council about putting up the mast to boost cellphone and wi-fi signals.

“In our opinion surrounding property value would increase as there would be no ‘dead’ spots regarding cellphone and wi-fi connectivity in the area,” he said.

“As for the health risks raised, the radiation emitted is of the non-ionizing type and Atlas Towers must ensure that the service providers making use of the mast and operate within the prescribed national regulations as drawn up by the World Health Organisation.

“In light of evolving technology, we did not have objections and were assured that before anything was erected, the neighbours would be given time to lodge complaints with the City Council, which is what happened,” said Mr Koegelenberg.

“The church sees the opportunity as a win-win for both parties.

“The church will be receiving much-needed additional funding to spread the word of God, and the neighbours will be receiving the benefits of better cell and wi-fi reception,” he said.

Asked how much money the church stood to make from the deal, Mr Koegelenberg said the contract was confidential.

He said three peaceful protests had been held so far, all on a Sunday morning prior to the church’s service.

“The church council will be meeting with a representative group from the surrounding concerned neighbours at their next church council meeting, and they are awaiting new plans from Atlas Towers,” he said.