Residents object to ‘forest’ of cell masts

Plumstead residents are worried about the possible long-term health effects of what they say is a growing “forest” of cell masts that have sprung up in the suburb.

There are several cellphone base stations and antennae within 200m of each other in Plumstead, and not all of them have the necessary approval.

On Wednesday May 18, Sub-council 20 looked at an application by Warren Peterson Planning, on behalf of iBurst, for several antennae, already installed on the roof of Culmhood Gardens flats in Plumstead.

The antennae are near an MTN mast on Primrose Park flats. According to the sub-council notes, Warren Peterson Planning is reapplying for approval for the rooftop base station, which comprises three iBurst antennae, two Vodacom antennae and microwave dishes, because the council erred by approving the building plans in 2005.

”These were incorrectly cleared as being zoning compliant when this was in fact not the case. The zoning clearance was done on the basis that ‘the intended use being ancillary to the use of the property’. This would have been the case if the base station was solely for the use of the residents on the property, but it is clear that the use is for the wider public. Thus, despite the approved building plans, a notice was served on the owner for unauthorised land use, which resulted in this application,” say the sub-council agenda notes.

At the May 18 meeting, ward councillor Liz Brunette said a decision would be taken on the reapplication at the next sub-council meeting “pending a report by the City’s environmental health department on radiation readings in the area because we have had a lot of complaints from residents”.

Speaking to the Bulletin on Tuesday, ahead of yesterday’s meeting, sub-council manager Richard White said the report had not yet been submitted. Sub-council 20 was still meeting at the time this edition went to print yesterday.

Twelve residents, in their objections to sub-council about the latest application said the masts were unsightly, hurt property values and threatened people’s health.

The usual standard response to these concerns is noted in the application too: there is no evidence that cell masts are either a health risk or affect property values.

Culm Road resident Gwen Callanan, in her objection, said: “This is about the fourth advice we have received in recent years of similar action on either this building (Culmhood Gardens) or the other block slightly behind it (Primrose Park).”

It continues: “We have heard all the stories so glibly spread by those standing to benefit from these masts or base stations about them being harmless if high enough above dwelling places.

“Truth is, none can say that with any certainty, especially long-term, and we here are no longer talking about one mast or one base station. We are slowly being surrounded by a literal forest of them.”

Ms Callanan said residents’ objections to every mast application appeared to be ignored.

“They send a letter as a matter of form, it seems – and that is if you get the letter – and then they ignore you.”

Johan van der Merwe, the City’s mayoral committee member for energy, environmental and spatial planning, said it appeared there were no recent refusals for cell masts in the southern suburbs in recent years.

“In some cases, applications were refused by the sub-councils but were later approved on appeal,” he said. “Unfortunately, the system that is used by the City’s planning and building development management de-partment does not easily allow for the records to be categorised, as requested. However, offhand, there is no recollection of recent refusals involving cellular base station applications in the area.”

Muna Lakhani, the Cape Town branch co-ordinator for Earthlife Africa, said the group was lobbying the City.

“We believe the City is not implementing its own policy, to measure the cumulative effect of EMF exposure, and rationalising of masts, before approving new cellmasts. Given the strides science has made, it is time for a new policy,” Mr Lakhani, a Wynberg resident, said.

Mr Lakhani said that while the industry claimed cell masts were safe, not all scientists agreed.

“There is a battery of science, most of which is generated by industry-friendly science, saying from a certain distance it is relatively safe. On the other hand, there are many other independent experts confirming there is a risk.

“People are not protected to the degree that we ought to be, and this is based on two things: thermal effect and exposure to EMF. New research confirms that the effect is not only thermal. There is nothing currently in place to measure long-term exposure or for sensitivity, especially by children and pregnant mothers.”

The Bulletin contacted Multisource, which owns iBurst, multiple times for comment but by the time this edition went to print they had not responded.