‘Cell masts can go up if regulations comply’

Cell masts have been causing a stir in the community.

The policy which governs the way the City of Cape Town responds to cell mast applications from telecommunications companies is through abiding by the Telecommunication Mast Infrastructure Policy, which was approved by the council in May last year.

“The City is increasingly aware of the importance of telecommunications in the growth of the city and the country. With increasing population and increasing demand for telecommunications, the City is supportive of methods that will improve the economy within the city,” said Johan van der Merwe, the City’s mayoral committee member for energy, environmental and spatial planning.

Mr Van der Merwe said the policy gives clarity to the industry and the general public as to what is considered acceptable location and positioning.

In recent weeks, the Bulletin has reported on the issue of cell mast towers being placed in residential areas by cellular companies.

A community meeting was also held in Heathfield on September 3 by Earthlife Africa about the issue of cell masts in residential areas (“Call to curb cell masts”, Constantiaberg Bulletin, September 8). Many of the residents who attended the meeting claim that they were not informed about the placement of the towers in the area and therefore claimed that the cell masts were being placed illegally.

Residents in Plumstead have also cried foul when an application for a mast on a block of flats was approved about 200 metres away from a pre-existing telecommunications base station, (“EMF from cell masts a ‘hot chilli’ to chew,” Constantiaberg Bulletin, June 30).

According to Mr Van der Merwe, the main factors which the City takes into consideration when deciding whether or not to grant the approval for the installation of a cell mast in a residential area are the visual impact, health impact and services impact.

“In terms of the visual impact, does it encourage sensitive siting, design and co-location or sharing of infrastructure to minimise impact.

“With regards to the health impact, the City has taken guidance from the national Department of Health regarding (the) guidelines for safe exposure of RF (radio frequency) radiation. The services impact includes (the) protection of existing underground services. New infrastructure needs to take into account existing services location.

“The policy is a guideline to assist decision-makers. There are many others, the approval of a land use application in terms of the Municipal Planning By-law will need to comply with the decision-making criteria in the other relevant planning and environmental legislation” said Mr Van der Merwe.

The City does acknowledge, however, that “it can occur that an approval is granted and a mast is built, and additional antennae are put on the existing mast in terms of the original approval.” Building plans are approved if they comply with the National Building Regulations, said Mr Van van der Merwe.

The process the City follows for the installation of cell masts is when permission is granted for a mast and once a subsequent building plan is submitted and approved, construction may commence.

“If the council is required to give its consent in terms of the Municipal Planning By-law then a more extensive process is undertaken. These processes include checking title deeds, assessing completeness of application, advertising to affected parties, referral of any comment or objection received to applicant to comment, assessment of the application, referral of a report to the decision maker, an authorised official or in the event of title deed removal or objections being received to the Municipal Planning Tribunal, all parties notified of decision and right of appeal issued, consideration of any appeals and the issue of a final decision,” said Mr Van der Merwe.

However, residents at the Heathfield meeting claimed that the City of Cape Town has not informed the residents about the cell masts being put up.

They also said the City has been allowing cell masts to go up without the necessary health reports. Many residents at the meeting were concerned about the health impacts on residents, particularly on the poor, elderly, disabled, children and pregnant women. Many of the residents who attended the meeting claimed that they have been experiencing Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS) since the masts have been put up. These symptoms include insomnia, dizziness and hearing buzzing noises (“Debilitated by electro hypersensitivity”, Constantiaberg Bulletin, July 28 and “Engineers argue that EMR radiation is safe”, Bulletin, September 1).

As previously reported, Sub-council 20 has recently approved a request for a cell mast to be placed on the roof of the Constantia Mediclinic (“Hospital cell mast uproar”, Bulletin, May 19).

According to Mr Van der Merwe, “the municipal by-laws control the land uses within the city.”

“There are many different zones and some allow a rooftop base station or a freestanding base station. In other zones they may need the City’s permission. In some zones the only mechanism is to allow a temporary basis of up to five years. The by-laws permits a rooftop base station on properties zoned for Single Residential, General Residential and Rural Zones, however only if Council’s consent is granted. A rooftop base station is permitted in the Agricultural use zone and a freestanding mast is permitted with Council’s consent in the Agricultural and Rural Zone.”

One of the goals which were outlined by Earthlife Africa was to call for amendments to be made to the City’s policy.

According to Mr Van der Merwe, the City does make provision for changes to be made to working policies. “The approved policy of 2015 replaced council’s previous policy that was applicable from 2002.

“Council maintains the agency to review its policies when needed. The policies are reviewed when they become outdated or irrelevant, or legislation changes that affects the policy. This involves obtaining the mayor’s approval to proceed with an amendment. Thereafter public participation is undertaken and a revised policy is submitted to council for consideration.”

Many of the residents who attended the community meeting claimed that they have been fighting with the council and nothing has been done. Mr Van der Merwe replied, saying: “All comments and objections are taken into account when considering an application.”