Diocese of Lichfield Responds to Mobile Phone Mast Protests

The Church of England's Diocese of Lichfield has spoken up on mobile phone masts in a bid to pacify tensions after two separate demonstrations were held against mobile phone base stations in the Black Country.

Around 60 protestors recently blockaded a church in Wednesbury to voice their objection to a possible mast planned for the tower of St Francis of Assisi Church in Friars Park.

Protests have also been made against a mast to be installed shortly at the King's School in Wolverhampton.

The Director of Communications for the Diocese of Lichfield, Gavin Drake, said many of the protests are based on misinformation not only in respect of the effect on people's health, but also about the status of both sites.

He affirmed that there had been a mobile phone base station at The King's School in Wolverhampton for the past seven years. "All that is happening now is that the phone company wish to replace this with a newer mast," he said.

The local authority planning department initially rejected the application before the planning inspectorate later approved it on appeal. The replacement mast will now be installed in the next few months.

Mr Drake went on to allay suspicions that the Diocese of Lichfield has a financial interest in the King's School mast.

"Protestors have claimed that the mast has been forced through by the Diocese of Lichfield because we receive £70,000 a year from it. Nothing could be further from the truth," he said.

He assured that mobile phone companies pay a rental or lease fee of between £3,000 and £9,000 a year depending on the site and other conditions, although he refused to divulge how much the sites in question was receiving from the mobile phone operator.

"I am happy to confirm that the Diocese of Lichfield does not receive a penny from the mast at the school - all the money received is used by the school for the benefit of their students."

Mr Drake claimed that misinformation was behind the recent protests at Wednesbury. "As it stands today, there is no application for a mast at St Francis of Assisi Church in Wednesbury," he assured.

He confirmed that discussions had taken place between the local Parochial Church Council and QS4, which was the Church of England's approved antenna installer until May this year.

Mr Drake revealed that the PCC had "agreed in principle that they are happy for a mast to be installed in the tower of their church". He also made clear that as part of the agreement between the Archbishops' Council and QS4, an "enhanced programme of consultation" would take place before any formal application is made.

"Many of the protestors at the church - and many of the comments we have received via email have asked why local people have only just been told about the proposed mast. The answer is simple - we are at the start of a consultation process; not the end of it," he said.

"No formal decision has been made, because no formal application has been received. QS4 and the PCC will take the views of local residents on board when they consider making a formal application."

He confirmed that at the point of making a formal application, a formal public notice would be displayed outside the church and local residents would be invited to submit their views in writing. These will then be considered by the Diocesan Advisory Committee - the statutory body which regulates planning issues within Church of England buildings.

The DAC will then present the application and any objections to the Chancellor of the Diocese, Judge Marten Coates, who will decide whether to allow or reject the application.

"The process of Faculty Jurisdiction within consecrated Church of England buildings is laid down in law and is designed to ensure that opponents and supporters of proposed developments can make their views known," said Mr Drake.

"We are at an early stage in the process in Wednesbury and it is completely wrong for protestors to say the church won't listen or that decisions have already been taken."

He went on to criticise the nature of the protests that had so far taken place agains the mobile phone masts.

"Everybody has the right to protest, but nobody has the right to behave the way some of the protestors outside St Francis' Church behaved," he said. "The protestors claim they are concerned for children, yet they were happy to act like a baying mob booing and jeering young children and elderly parishioners as they left church this morning. Such behaviour is intolerable and I hope these protestors will reflect on their actions."