They are going to increasing lengths to disguise the masts, some being made to look like trees in fields and woodlands. It is being viewed by critics as an attempt to make the masts “disappear” into the surrounding areas.
A Vodafone mast which went up in March on the edge of Ascot racecourse is disguised as an evergreen conifer in a forest of deciduous trees. It can just be spotted poking above the tops of real trees, its fake branches – individually attached to the huge post – covering a circle of transmitters.
Just outside York another phone mast has been less successfully blended into the countryside, as the “monkey puzzle” type of “tree” towers above a large native one.
Square clusters of leaves are stuck on the sparsely interspersed artificial branches which jut out from a huge concrete post.
Orange have erected a 25-metre mast in Essex which is made to look like a Scots pine and stands twice as high as the existing tree line.
The company said they were trying to minimise the impact of masts on the surrounding area. It was constructed “to blend in with its environment”. Phone masts cannot be put up without planning consent from local authorities but a website designed to help people find out where they are has hit problems.
The mobile phone companies have allegedly stopped helping to update the website which is aimed at telling people where the masts are going up. The 2000 Stewart Report on the potential health hazards posed by the microwave-transmitting phone masts made recommendations. The industry voluntarily set up an internet site listing where they were putting masts but not revealing which company owned them.
An online map at www.sitefinder.ofcom.org.uk – maintained by industry regulator Ofcom from information given by the UK’s five mobile phone operators – is supposed to help people check exactly how many phone masts are in their area. But a few months ago, following a Freedom of Information request on exactly how many masts each operator has and where they were located, the industry stopped providing Ofcom with data.
Now Ofcom wants to block the request because of worries that mobile companies will stop providing them with information on new masts for good – rendering Sitefinder obsolete.
Ofcom said: “The mobile phone network operators have decided not to provide any further information to us about sites. If we disclosed the data asked for, they will cease to supply us with any data at all. That will mean Sitefinder will get out of date.”
Alasdair Philips, director of Powerwatch, an information service on electro-magnetic fields and microwave radiation, is outraged at the phone companies’ behaviour. He said: “It beggars belief that the companies should stop putting up the limited information they have provided in the past. It looks like a fit of pique.”
Sir William Stewart, who reported on mobile phone technology, is calling for an investigation into the potential hazards of wi-fi technology which is regularly used by people to connect to the Internet remotely. His report found there was no conclusive evidence to dismiss mobile phone technology as harmless and urged a cautionary approach.