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Council blunder means 5G phone mast can be built in Queenborough Road, Halfway, despite objections


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A colossal 5G phone mast can be put up in a residential street after a borough council blunder meant officers ran out of time to consider the plans.

CK Hutchison Networks (UK) Ltd has planning permission for the 20-metre pole just yards from people's homes in Queenborough Road in Halfway, on Sheppey.

Plans were submitted to Swale council for a 20-metre tall 5G mast to be built in Queenborough Road, Halfway, in August
Plans were submitted to Swale council for a 20-metre tall 5G mast to be built in Queenborough Road, Halfway, in August

Swale council had 56 days to either allow or object to the plans, which caused public uproar due to the mast which would be equivalent, in height, to almost five stacked double decker buses.

It was also branded an “eyesore” and there were fears about potential health issues.

The council said it received the application in August and deemed it "invalid" due to missing information that was not received until the following month – this was when the authority began its 56-day countdown.

But the developer argued it should have started from when the application was first submitted – something lawyers have since confirmed.

It has now apologised to those affected for its "failure to determine this application in the correct way".

Jan Peacock, Jean Kittle and Lynn Gilbert were among residents who strongly objected to the plans
Jan Peacock, Jean Kittle and Lynn Gilbert were among residents who strongly objected to the plans

A council spokesman said: “The proposed development is classed nationally as a permitted development, subject to seeking our prior approval for the siting and appearance of the mast.

“We received the application in early August and deemed it invalid due to missing information that was not received until September.

“These kinds of applications have 56 days to be determined, including up to 21 days for consultation, and we began the countdown from the date we received the additional information.

“The operator contacted us to notify us they believed they had deemed consent as 56 days had passed since they submitted the initial application in August. Legal advice confirmed this belief.

“Unfortunately, prior notifications for these developments do not have the same rules for validation as regular planning applications, and we have been caught out by this discrepancy."

'The position at present is that they do have consent to erect the mast under the above permitted development legislation.'

He added: "We apologise to those affected for our failure to determine this application in the correct way, and our chief executive is personally investigating the matter.

“We have been exploring options to overcome this, including conversations with Kent County Council as the highways authority, but we have been unable find a solution.

“Given the number of objections to this scheme we are seeking to discuss further with the developer to try to find alternative and more suitable locations for such a mast.

"However, the position at present is that they do have consent to erect the mast under the above permitted development legislation.”

Scores of people living in Queenborough Road objected to the proposals, which would see the pole put on a narrow piece of land near the junction with Field View Close, with six antennae and three equipment cabinets.

The land where the 5G mast is set to go in Queenborough Road, Halfway
The land where the 5G mast is set to go in Queenborough Road, Halfway

Cllr Cameron Beart, who represents Queenborough and Halfway on Swale council, said the blunder was unacceptable and that his residents deserved better.

"This application proposed to install much-needed infrastructure but, in my opinion, was in a totally inadequate and inappropriate location," he said.

"There was significant objection from my residents and I was reassured to learn that the application was on course to be refused.

"It has therefore come as a total shock that due to yet another blunder within Swale's planning department and failure to determine the application in the timescales they are given, it has been approved on a technicality.

"It really is unacceptable and my residents deserve better.

Cllr Cameron Beart. Picture: Swale council
Cllr Cameron Beart. Picture: Swale council

"I have requested a meeting with officers to find out how we have ended up in this situation and hope this will be looked at to ensure lessons are learnt and it doesn't happen again."

Linda Soan, who has lived in the road with her husband Terence for more than 40 years, was one of 25 people who put in an official objection to the plans.

She said she was angry and annoyed about the error.

"I think it's disgusting," she said. "They had 56 days – how much time do they need to decide?

"It's made me feel very angry. Everyone round here has put a lot of effort in to try to prevent this and then the council go and do this. I'm so annoyed. It's just unbelievable."

The land where the 5G mast is set to go in Queenborough Road, Halfway
The land where the 5G mast is set to go in Queenborough Road, Halfway

Mrs Soan added: "Let's hope they can find a solution and let it not get stuck there. There are fields further down the road where it can go instead. It beggar's belief, it really does. They don't really seem to think about the people at all."

Lynn Gilbert, whose home is directly opposite where the mast is planned to go, said she thought it was "diabolical".

"If it was outside their houses, do you think they would have missed a deadline?" she said.

"Surely they knew when the deadline was. It's a very bad, basic admin error."

She added: "Don't you think they should have spoken to us rather than just send out a letter too? It's diabolical.

'It's disgusting. They had 56 days – how much time do they need to decide?'

"Surely they can find somewhere more suitable to put it rather than right outside our homes."

This planning blunder comes just weeks after Swale council officials were left red faced after a junior staff member was unwittingly let loose on approving and rejecting planning notices, with one applicant, a charity boss, told their scheme was turned down because: “Your proposal is whack”.

It came about when the Mid Kent Planning Support team, which handles the online submissions on behalf of Swale council, was trying to resolve software issues.

In doing so, five ‘dummy’ decisions, used to test the website was working, were accidentally published.

Among them was the sarcastic refusal to a desperate bid by Happy Pants animal sanctuary to stay on its site in Bobbing, near Sittingbourne. The charity received the response “your proposal is whack” and “no mate, proper whack”.

Making good the mistaken planning decisions was set to cost £8,000.

Read more: All the latest news from Sheppey

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