Time is running out for council to block automatic approval of ‘monster’ 22.5m telecoms mast

Residents who fear time is running out for a council to block a 22.5 metre telecoms mast, which may be approved “automatically” under a technicality in planning laws, have called for an emergency meeting.

The plans, submitted by Cornerstone, a mobile phone infrastructure company, would see the mast installed at the Martin’s Yard site in Drakefell Road, Telegraph Hill, Lewisham.

The applicant submitted plans, then withdrew them, only to submit them again days later under the “Prior Approval” framework, which leaves the council only 56 days to make a decision. If a decision is not made in that time, the plans are automatically approved.

An illustrated visualisation of what the view from Seymour Gardens would look like if the tower was constructed (Picture: Elsa Gwilliam)

The framework was brought in as part of the Government’s Town and Country Planning Order, introduced in 2015.

Residents in the area fear they are being denied their “democratic right”, as the objection period was only 21 days, and claim they have been unable to speak to the Lewisham council planning department.

They are demanding an emergency council planning meeting to address the issue before the 56 days are up on November 14.

“This process is surely designed to prevent residents’ views being meaningfully expressed,” said Giuseppe D’Agrosa, a resident of nearby Seymour Gardens.

“The combined effect of a lack of interest from local MPs and councillors makes us feel like we are completely failed, not only by a system but also by a group of people who, if they are properly representing the interest of the communities they are supposed to serve, could very well get together and express an objective transparent view of on this matter, which is what they are not doing.”

The residents claim Cornerstone has “gamed” the planning laws and are concerned the council is too overstretched to make a decision in time.

In March of this year, construction of a 5G mast went ahead in Sydenham, despite objections. The head of development management at Lewisham council, Michael Forrester, acknowledged the failure to deal with objections was due to “human error” in the planning department and that “there were not enough staff to cover this responsibility.” 

“I feel like we’re being left to bear the full impact of it all for the entire community,” said Elsa Gwilliam, a Seymour Gardens resident. “No one has listened to us, no one has taken up the invite of coming to see us face to face in our street and unbelievably, it looks like we may never even be granted the democratic right to speak at a goddamn planning meeting that seemingly doesn’t have to happen at all.” 

Fellow Seymour Gardens resident Kim Durham added: “New legislation is forcing through these monster 5G masts without time for proper local democratic scrutiny.”

A Lewisham council spokesperson said: “The prior approval framework is governed by national legislation and we cannot prevent an applicant from withdrawing an application and resubmitting it under the prior approval framework.

“When the new application was submitted, we notified anyone who commented on the original application, as well as other local residents, providing them with the opportunity to submit comments within the statutory consultation period of 21 days. 369 letters were sent out to homes and businesses in the area with information about the new application and site notices were displayed.

“All comments received in response to planning applications are considered in full and summarised in the final officer report, with responses provided to common themes and issues raised.”

Conerstone and the Department for Levelling Up have been contacted for comment.

Pictured top: Residents of Seymour Gardens protest against the mast. An illustration of the tower is above them, inset (Picture: Elsa Gwilliam)

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