Scores of dogs became the latest group to stage a protest in Bristol at the weekend – after they came with their owners to campaign against a mobile phone mast being erected in their local park.
More than 50 dogs from in and around Knowle turned out for the protest in Redcatch Park against plans by two mobile phone companies to erect a 24 meter high phone mast in the middle of the greenspace.
The phone company say they need to replace a mast that had previously been on a local pub, and despite owning the park, Bristol City Council say the law on erecting phone masts is heavily weighted in the phone companies’ favor that the council could be taken to court if they don’t let the mast be erected.
Read more: Fight begins to stop Redcatch Park mobile phone mast
The unusual protest happened on Saturday afternoon and was led by somebody dressed as Marshall from kids TV program Paw Patrol.
The local residents said that as well as having an unsightly 24 meter high mast in the middle of a local park, the compound and associated equipment around it would take up a big part of the green open space at Redcatch Park.
“This is a beautiful park, but the mast will spoil it,” said Mabel, Chloe and Digby, who took part in the protest. “We love walking our dogs here and it will just spoil the open space for the dogs to run around freely in. We use the park every day and have so many happy memories here.”
Local residents have formed a group called Residents Against The Mast. It’s co-leader is Sian Ellis Thomas.
“It’s estimated that over 100 dogs use this park on a regular basis, I certainly use it up to three times a day for my own dog Rachel,” she said. “It’s such an important space shared by dogs, kids, wildlife and people of every stripe. It’s a truly communal space and essential in so many ways to the wellbeing of all.”
The campaign is trying to get 3,500 signatures on an online petition by March 15 to present to Bristol City Council. Already there have been hundreds of letters of objection, but the plans to erect the temporary phone mast do not need planning permission.
Under fairly recent changes to the law made by the Government to speed up the roll-out of better mobile phone coverage, phone companies have an almost default permission to put up temporary masts.
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Bristol City Council said their powers to stop the mast are limited. In a statement issued at the start of the campaign, a spokesperson for the council said the Electronics Communication Code legislation gave a lot of power to telecoms firms to install mobile phone masts where they decided there was a need.
“This is not a council scheme and relates to a process where the council as landowner has limited powers with which to oppose the temporary mast,” he said.
“Despite being the landowner, there is legislation in place that limits council powers to prevent this type of work and allows telecoms operators to install their equipment (including masts) on a temporary basis.
“In this case, we have been approached by the telecoms provider to install a mast in order to prevent loss of service or network disruption following the impending loss of an existing site. In their proposal to the council, the provider has made it clear that they will seek a court order if needed to carry out this work. We continue to seek expert legal and telecoms advice and the telecoms operator has been asked to justify their use of these emergency powers,” he added.
As residents in Ashton Gate found in November 2020, Government legislation effectively gives mobile phone companies almost automatic permission to erect temporary phone masts, unless there are strong objections from local council chiefs.
The mast is being proposed by Hutchison 3G and EE phone companies. A spokesperson for Walden Communications, the mobile phone mast installers, said the temporary mast is required in the area to boost mobile phone signals, after a mast was taken down from the site of a nearby former pub in Axminster Road.
A spokesperson for MNBL, the company behind the application, said: “The temporary site at Redcatch Park is to provide coverage following the loss of our permanent site which was housed at The Friendship Inn public house in Knowle.
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“The building and land was acquired by developers and meant that we needed to vacate. This has resulted in a loss of coverage for both EE and Three customers.
“We do endeavor to find permanent solutions as quickly as possible but where circumstances prevail we work with the Local Planning Authorities to deploy temporary equipment so that the network services can be maintained, and those residents and businesses that rely upon EE and Three remain connected.
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“We will continue to work closely with Bristol City Council and the Planning officers, as well as the Local Community during this process,” they added.
Residents have until a deadline of March 7 to register objections to the proposal with Bristol City Council, with the matter being considered by an internal council, which could deny the phone committee companies a license to erect the mast.
They could then go to court to appeal against that decision. “With the unprecedented amount of objection letters and the amount of publicity we have received for our campaign, we are hoping we are successful, but until that time, the fight goes on,” said Ms Ellis Thomas.
Campaigners are now planning to blitz local streets in Knowle, Totterdown and Bedminster with another 5,000 leaflets through letterboxes to add to the 5,000 already delivered.
The online petition against the mast has already gained 2,500 signatures, and the number of objection letters sent directly to the council is approaching 200.
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