Birmingham planners have voted to defy government regulations by refusing permission for a 30ft-high mobile phone mast next to a nursery school.
City councillors were concerned about the impact on the health of children and did not believe that applicants Orange had looked for a better site.
Planning committee members threw out the proposal, on land at Streetly Road, Stockland Green, despite receiving legal advice that there were no grounds for a refusal and that Orange was likely to win permission on appeal.
Yesterday’s meeting dissolved into confusion after committee chairman, Peter Douglas Osborn, appeared to suggest that councillors voting against the mast could be open to legal action and might be surcharged – forced to pay the council’s costs if Orange appealed and won the case. Council lawyer Karanda Artoon said there was no question of a surcharge. A vote on whether to approve the application was taken three times.
On the first occasion, eight councillors voted against the mast and none in favour. Coun Douglas Osborn insisted on a second vote so that the names of those in favour of the application could be recorded “so they are not surcharged”.
In the second attempt six councillors voted for and five against, but the result was ruled out because two councillors had switched sides. Finally, the committee voted by seven to five to turn down planning permission for the mast.
Coun Douglas Osborn said concerns about the health of children at the Toto day nursery, 40 yards from the mast, were “irrelevant” because the government had decreed such matters could not be taken into consideration by planners when considering applications.
Assistant planning director John Culligan said Orange had followed regulations correctly by searching for appropriate locations in Erdington and that the company would produce “compelling evidence” at an appeal to show why planning permission should be granted.
Local councillor Matt Bennett, who addressed the committee and urged members to reject the application, accused Coun Douglas Osborn afterwards of “behaving disgracefully” by issuing a “thinly-veiled threat” about surcharges.
Coun Bennett (Con Stockland Green) said: “There seems to be an attitude among officers and the chairman of the committee that phone mast applications should just be agreed. But there are far too many masts in this area and I am delighted this one has been turned down. It is the job of the planning committee to represent the interests of Birmingham residents and not the interests of developers and phone mast companies.
“We should not be afraid to make decisions that companies don’t like.”