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What an eyesore: Campaign against phone mast at heart of Beacon Fell

Posted on - 11th February, 2024 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Parks, Preston Council, Preston News, Redevelopment
Proposed phone mast site on Beacon Fell
Proposed phone mast site on Beacon Fell

A campaign is gathering momentum to prevent a phone mast springing up close to the top of one of Lancashire’s best-loved beauty spots.

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More than 1,500 people have so far signed a petition against plans to install the 40-metre-high structure at the heart of Beacon Fell in Goosnargh.

As the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) revealed last month, telecoms infrastructure company Cornerstone wants permission to install its kit in the designated country park as part of a nationwide effort to improve mobile reception and 4G broadband coverage in rural areas.

Read more: Fulwood business that supplies Premier League grounds set for expansion

However, one Goosnargh resident, who lives in the shadow of the fell, says not enough people know about the proposal – but she believes the majority would be as “horrified” at the prospect as she is if they did.

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For that reason, Joanna Sebborn has spent hours over the last week leafleting and talking to fellow fell-users who have travelled from near and far to the Carwags Lane attraction, which is part of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and rises to 266 metres above sea level.     She has even made a model phone mast which is stationed at the visitors’ centre.

Joanna Sebborn
Joanna Sebborn

“Every single person I’ve spoken to has been like, ‘What? They can’t do that.’

“It’s going to be 10 metres above the tree line – that is [equivalent] to a house – and AONB rules state that nothing should ruin the visual aesthetic [of the area].

“It can be seen from Longridge Fell and Parlick Fell – and for miles around.   It’s going to be a real blot on the landscape.

“But no letters [have gone] out to residents informing us – we found out via an article on the Lancashire Post website. Yet if I wanted to put something like that in my garden, they’d be telling my neighbours,” Joanna said.

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Local authorities must advise people living in the immediate vicinity of an application about what could be coming to their backyard   However, remote locations like Beacon Fell will often have no households within that tightly-drawn catchment.

Preston City Council told the LDRS that it had gone over and above its statutory duty in relation to the phone mast application by posting notices about the plan at the edge of the site itself and in nearby country park car parks.

Rangers who look after the country park have now marked out the area that would be taken up by the 100 square metre compound for the proposed kit, while Joanna has placed her own posters nearby advising visitors what might be set to appear at the spot.

Five trees would have to be removed to install the phone mast, although replacement planting would be undertaken elsewhere.

Cornerstone says that the ‘lattice-style’ structure of the suggested tower has been chosen because it is “visually permeable and will help the mast blend into its backdrop from medium to long-range views”.

In its planning application, the firm states that the selected site would enable the mast to be “discreetly positioned in a location surrounded by mature trees” of approximately 30 metres in height.

It adds: “The trees provide excellent screening from all directions. The applicant acknowledges that the mast is slightly taller than the surrounding trees – however, it is imperative that the antennas are not blocked by the trees as the signal would suffer severe interference.

Proposed phone mast site on Beacon Fell
Proposed phone mast site on Beacon Fell

“Furthermore, the transmission dishes need to have a clear line of sight to other masts in the area in order to wirelessly connect to the network.”

Other kit that would be required within the compound includes an equipment cabinet, a generator and an associated biofuel tank, which will ensure service is maintained in the event of power loss caused by events such as extreme weather. The biofuel generator is to be completely enclosed within the compound to contain any noise or smell that may be produced, the planning application states.

However, Joanna is unimpressed by the proposed mitigation for the mast and its three antennae – including a pledge that it would be painted green.

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“It’s not going to look like a tree however much they want it to,” she said.

When the LDRS joined her at the Lancashire County Council-operated Beacon Fell Country Park on Wednesday, none of the half a dozen or so people she approached – or who approached her – were in favour of the plans, with most expressing shock when they learned of what could be looming on the local horizon.

Alan Hawkins said he could see the fell from his home in Blackpool, from where he had come to spend the day in the park.  He fears the mast would detract from longer-distance views like his.

“We get a fantastic sight of the Bowland Fells and Beacon Fell from some points in Blackpool, like the top of Warbreck Hill Road.   If they put a ruddy mast up there, it will spoil it,” Alan said.

Meanwhile, local resident Michael Moir stumbled across the taped-off area where the mast would stand while taking his dogs for their regular walk on Beacon Fell.

Michael Moir
Michael Moir

“Something like that would totally ruin it,” he told the LDRS.

“You don’t want huge chunks of metal in a place like this.  It’d be very out of place and I don’t think anyone who comes up here would want it to be there.

“And all to make some money and wreck it for people who enjoy this place.   Because I guarantee the people making money off it, they don’t come up here – but us locals do and love it.”

It is opinions like that which Joanna is hoping to galvanise, although she recognises they are not universally held and that some people see a benefit in greater signal reliability in case of the need to make emergency calls in the remote location – one of the justifications for the proposal in the planning application.

“There already is a signal on the fell – and walkers could always get a phone that uses satellite.   But it is up to everyone to make up their own minds – I just wanted them to know about it.

“I think they have messed with the wrong people [over this].  The people who come here are very passionate about Beacon Fell and think it should be protected – so I don’t think this is a fight [Cornerstone] are going to win,” Joanna said.

The firm assessed nine alternative locations for a mast locally – including another spot within Beacon Fell Country Park – but found none suitable.

The nature of the application means it will be decided by city council planning officers directly – a so-called “delegated decision” – rather than by the authority’s planning committee of elected councillors based on a recommendation from those officers.

Cornerstone was approached for comment on the issues raised in this report.

Have your say

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You can submit comments to Preston City Council about the proposed Beacon Fell phone mast by emailing Devcon@preston.gov.uk. The full application is available to view on the council’s planning portal, using reference number 06/2023/0259, which should also be quoted in any correspondence.

“We don’t even need it, never mind want it”

The planned mast is part of the government-backed Shared Rural Network, a collaboration between mobile operators O2, Vodafone and Three. The project aims to ensure that 95 per cent of the UK enjoys coverage from at least one operator by 2025 in order to access a fast mobile broadband service.

However, Joanna Sebborn says the move is “five years too late” for Goosnargh residents because locals have already dipped into their own pockets to bring high-speed connectivity to their area via the specialist provider, Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN).

“We all invested in a project that doesn’t destroy the landscape, but solves the problem. We helped dig the trenches and went round getting people to sign up.

“So we use that for Wi-Fi calling in the house and, as for the internet, you couldn’t get a faster connection – it’s 1GB and you could up that to 10GB if you need it.  It’s just not the case that we are in digital poverty around here,” Joanna explained.

The Beacon Fell site would initially be made available to Vodafone, but the mast is a shareable structure that could be opened up to other providers in future.

What are others saying?

Preston Rural North city council ward member Sue Whittam told the LDRS that she was “very unhappy” about the phone mast plan  – both because it is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and also as a result of “the size and scale” of the proposed tower.

“I will be doing everything I can to support the residents and the parish council to stop this going ahead,” Cllr Whittam said.

Goosnargh Parish Council has told Preston City Council that it “strongly objects” to the plans, which it says would be “visually intrusive” and in an “extremely sensitive location”.

It says Cornerstone should be asked “to justify” the need for the equipment by revealing how many local residents and businesses currently use Vodafone and so could be expected to benefit from the development.

As of Thursday, the city council has not processed any consultation response from Lancashire County Council.

However, Natural England – a government-sponsored body whose remit is to conserve and enhance the natural environment – says it has no objection to the plans.

What is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty?

Before Natural England proposes an area becomes an AONB, it must meet some combination of criteria which attest to its ‘natural beauty’.   Those factors could include::

***landscape quality, whether natural or man-made;

***scenic quality, like striking coastal landforms;

****relative wildness, such as distance from housing or having few roads;

***relative tranquillity, where natural sounds, such as streams or birdsong dominate;

***natural heritage features, such as distinctive geology or species and habitat.

Land within an AONB is protected by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.  Local authorities must ensure any proposals for development in such areas “have regard for the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the AONB”.

The National Landscape partnership – which consists of local councils, national environmental agencies and local representatives from landowning and recreation interest groups – is responsible for co-ordinating efforts to achieve those aims in the Forest of Bowland AONB.

Its work is carried out through the staff team employed by its “accountable body”, which is Lancashire County Council.

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