CO WICKLOW residents have claimed a breakthrough after the Office of Public Works confirmed it would no longer seek planning permission for commercial telecommunications equipment on a radio mast at Bray Garda station.
The OPW built a 32-metre mast at the Garda station early in 2007 claiming a planning exemption for such equipment. Under a deal with the State’s mobile operators 02, Vodafone and 3, the OPW then allowed mobile phone antennae, cabinets and cables to be installed there.
The mast, located in the southwest corner of the Garda station grounds, replaced a smaller version at the northern end of the property, which had carried only Garda equipment.
However, local residents expressed outrage that the new, higher mast was within metres of their homes and asked Bray Town Council to determine whether the structure was exempt from planning permission.
“We were told by the council that in fact it was exempt,” said Michael Murray who, along with others, decided to challenge that view. They sought a determination from Bord Pleanála which decided the structure was not, after all, exempt development.
The board found that while the State did agree a planning exemption for Garda masts, and mobile phone companies were allowed to benefit from this exemption, the exemption had limitations.
It ruled that under Telecommunications Antennae and Support Guidelines for local authorities published in 1996, telecommunications infrastructure should be located where possible in industrial estates or on industrially zoned land. The guidelines said that “only as a last resort and if the alternatives are either unavailable or unsuitable, should free-standing masts be located in a residential area or beside schools”.
Following the determination by the board, the telecom companies applied to Bray Town Council for planning permission, but this was refused on the grounds the structure would be visually obtrusive and intrusive.
The telecoms companies appealed the decision to Bord Pleanála but the planning inspector found that while sharing was generally acceptable, it was not acceptable to “load” one mast “if there is potential to adversely impact the amenities of the properties in the vicinity”.