Community battle against cell masts

The cell mast in Dalham Road off Strawberry Lane in Constantia.

This month, it will be one year since a Strawberry Lane resident won a court battle against a cell mast in the area. Disguised as a tree, the mast is still there and it’s still switched on.

On June 3 last year, the Western Cape High Court set aside building approval granted by the City of Cape Town allowing MTN to erect a base telecommunication station, including a 14.5m mast (“Residents celebrate cell mast victory,” Bulletin June 20). Residents expressed relief and gratitude that justice had prevailed, but not for long.

On November 18, 2015, MTN was granted leave to appeal, and, despite several letters sent to MTN expressing widespread opposition and asking that they turn off the mast in the interim, it is still operational.

For two decades the Strawberry Lane community has been opposing having cell masts in the area. In the 1990s, it took them two years to have a Vodacom mast removed because of concerns of the potential associated health risks. It had been built illegally, without planning permission. In 2011, they again took action when a second mast was erected on that site, which was later removed.

Meanwhile, in October 2010, the City granted MTN a departure for a temporary structure valid for five years. In November 2014, MTN built a telecommunication station on a property in the cul-de-sac of Dalham Road, off Strawberry Lane. Resi- dents took to the roads and marched to the property waving banners demonstrating against the tele- communication station (“Protest against cell mast”, Bulletin December 4 2014).

The application for removal of the base station and mast was lodged by Stemar Trust, owners of the neighbouring property on which the station stands, in August 2014, three months before the telecommunication station was built. The City was cited as a respondent to the application, but did not oppose the relief sought, and agreed to abide by the court’s decision.

As stated in Judge Owen Rogers’ judgment of June 3, MTN had applied for City approval for a departure in terms of the Land Use Planning Ordinance to use the property, which was zoned single residential, as a base station for five years. MTN also needed approval to build the base station.

In his judgment, Judge Rogers took into account whether the base station was a temporary structure, saying he was sure that MTN did not intend using it for only five years. He also said there was no evidence that MTN had ever demolished base stations after a short period of time.

Justine Hansen of Strawberry Lane Mast Action Group said according to the City of Cape Town’s Telecommunication Mast Infrastructure Policy, which was updated in April 2015, most of the original infrastructure in the city was approved as temporary departures. “Consequently last year’s High Court ruling that the base station did not qualify as a temporary structure potentially has far-reaching implications,” she said.

Adding that Judge Rogers had also observed that, “New scientific discoveries may lead to a conclusion that base stations should, for health reasons, not be located near residential dwellings….”

She said a date has not been set yet for the appeal which will be held in Bloemfontein.

A spokesman for the Constantia Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association, John Hesom, said they had had no further communications about the cell mast from residents or the City.

The Bulletin sent questions to Bridget Behngu, media spokesperson for MTN, the City’s media office, councillor Liz Brunette and the Department of Justice, but they did not reply by the time this edition went to print.