Voters force council u-turn in mobile tower spat

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Voters force council u-turn in mobile tower spat

If there's anything to be learned from Palerang Council, it's that mobile towers might be unbearable to the eye - but also near impossible to live without.

A local council has been forced to back a proposal by Telstra to erect a mobile coverage tower after initially rejecting it on two occasions.

The U-turn came after far more of the area's constituents protested the removal of mobile access than those protesting the construction of the tower.

Palerang Council, which serves a number of small towns and villages in south-east New South Wales, objected to Telstra's replacement of a temporary mobile base station, known as a Cell on Wheels (CoW), with a permanent structure, citing concerns over the visual appearance of the tower and the level of radiation emitted.

Local Mayor Ian Marjason told iTnews he saw no problem with the structure, blaming a few rogue councillors for the initial knockbacks.

"I personally don't think the pole is much of a problem visually," he said. "There's an Optus pole on the property pole next door to me which is about 18 metres tall and I don't even notice it these days. In terms of radiation, you get more radiation from using your mobile phone or watching TV than you do from one of those towers."

Marjason said Telstra representatives attended a local council meeting and informed concerned residents that "there was no basis for such an objection."

"But I think some councillors just wanted to knock it on the head regardless and were just hanging onto anything they possibly could to knock it back," Marjason said.

It was at this point that Telstra raised the stakes - announcing that it would remove its temporary base station from the area.

"We tried twice to get an application through council and it was rejected," said Telstra's Country Wide General Manager for Capital South East, Michael Sharpe.

"Given that we had a temporary tower on the site and there was no potential for a permanent tower, we moved to remove the temporary site. The council then reconvened through an EGM (extraordinary general meeting) and reconsidered their position on the permanent tower."

By the time the council reconvened, locals had already been without mobile phone and Internet coverage for almost a week, creating a firestorm of protest, with local authorities in the affected areas inundated with phone calls and emails complaining about their decision to block the tower.

Presumably with one eye on their positions come the next election, the council reversed its decision and decided to support the installation of the tower.

"The council had to weigh up whether they wanted to stick to their initial position or have a service provider for the residents and they opted for the latter, not unanimously though, I might add," Marjason said.

Sharpe said that due to the initial two council rejections of the tower's construction, the parties are now forced to proceed via the Land and Environment Court.

"At least the council have decided to support our appeal and take steps to expedite it, we are hopeful it will go through quickly," he said.

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