More than 300 people have objected to plans for a 5G mast in the green belt on the outskirts of Bath, with many raising fears about the “unknown” health risks from the technology.
Despite experts insisting it is safe, city MP Wera Hobhouse and council cabinet members were among those to raise concerns about the potential impact on humans and wildlife.
Fact-checkers have debunked health concerns about 5G, which like the previous generations of wireless network technology uses radio waves to transmit information.
Full Fact said: “Radio waves are a small part of a wider electromagnetic spectrum of waves, which all emit energy called electromagnetic radiation.
“Radio waves are found at the low-frequency end of the spectrum and, alongside microwaves, visible light and heat, only produce non-ionising radiation.
“This means that these waves cannot damage the DNA inside cells, which is how waves with higher frequencies (such as x-rays, gamma rays and ultraviolet light) are thought to cause cancer.
“5G uses a higher frequency of radio waves compared to its older generations. The frequency of this new wireless technology remains very low: the maximum levels of electromagnetic radiation measured by Ofcom were about 66 times smaller than the safety limits set by international guidelines.”
Experts at the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection have concluded that 5G is safe.
Regardless, the plans for a replacement mast in Woolley Lane are causing concern.
If approved, the mast will stand five metres taller than the existing one at nearly 20 metres tall, towering above the treeline, with six antennae and four communications dishes.
One of the 343 objectors to the plans said: “There is no conclusive proof that this won’t be harmful to people using the area. There are plenty of papers on risks of 5G including loss of bees and birds.”
Another denied that there was any research at all to show that 5G is safe, but a “vast” body of evidence of “serious adverse health effects from exposure to radiation emitted by these masts”.
She said: “Within that distance is Little Scribblers day nurseries, St Saviour’s Infants and Junior schools and St Mark’s secondary school. It is absolutely absurd to position a mast within such close proximity to so many children.”
The “significant” level of concern was recognised by Bathavon North ward member Sarah Warren and Joanna Wright, who represents the neighbouring ward of Lambridge. Both are cabinet members.
The latter told Bath and North East Somerset Council’s planning committee on 18th November: “This application is of great concern to many in the local area. Residents are concerned about the unknown effects the new technology will have on the local ecosystem and residents.
“As there’s still some dispute around the technology. I would urge some caution when considering this application. The impact it could have on bees could be catastrophic.
“The sheer size of the facility will have a dire impact. There are other technologies, in the form of fibre optics, that could be used to facilitate better electronic communications.
“The construction of this mast is not the only option.”
In a written objection, Bath MP Mrs Hobhouse said: “I am concerned about the height and visual impact of the mast in a World Heritage Site.”
The site is also in the green belt and the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Mrs Hobhouse added: “Furthermore, I am concerned about the threat to human health, to tree health and to wildlife and biodiversity.”
When questioned on this position, she said: “I have received a huge amount of correspondence from residents who are concerned about the rollout of 5G in Bath.
“I have spent time looking into the arguments myself and weighing up the available evidence. All the official guidance states that 5G is safe. Yet given the widespread concern, I believe it may be worth applying a precautionary principle on where masts are located whilst further studies are being undertaken.
“I am working with concerned Bath residents to make sure the technology is proven to be safe and will continue to do so.”
Representing the applicant, Nick Allan told councillors the development would give phone networks EE and 3 new 5G coverage and improved service for 2G, 3G and 4G.
He added: “During lockdown we’ve seen a massive shift from city centres and business parks with a demand for connectivity to more rural, suburban and more residential areas – that’s due to working from home, home schooling, online grocery shopping, people making phone calls, even virtual planning committee meetings like this one.
“The benefits will be social, economic and environmental.”
Planning committee members were told that the government supports the rollout, and there had been a wide-ranging review of scientific data on the effects of 5G exposure to human health.
Officers said in their recommendation for approval of the development: “There is no evidence for the induction of cancer, electrohypersensitivity, infertility or other health effects from exposure at the relevant frequencies.”
They said if the application was refused, another site would need to be found nearby that would likely still be in the green belt.
After being given reassurances from officers on the health impacts, and told not to set different safeguards to the international commission guidelines, planning committee members focused on the visual impact of the mast.
Cllr Lucy Hodge said the existing mast is not that prominent but the new one would be visible from all the hills around.
Cllr Shaun Hughes said: “Three hundred and forty objections. That’s a big number. It shows the council isn’t prepared to engage with the public on this subject, which is a mistake.
“I can’t see how you’re going to camouflage a mast that sits five metres above the tree line when the background is going to be the sky. It looks quite ugly.”
Members voted to defer their decision until after a virtual site visit so they can properly understand the impact the new mast would have on the landscape.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter