Local residents in the Cork village of Watergrasshill have emerged victorious in a planning row over a telecommunications mast located within a few metres of their homes.

A ruling by An Bord Pleanála means telecom firm, Three Ireland, could face enforcement proceedings unless it removes the unauthorised 30-metre mast and associated equipment including a security fence from its location at Bishop’s Island in Watergrasshill.

It follows the decision of the board to uphold the appeal of local people against the decision of Cork County Council in July to grant retention planning permission for the mast.

An Bord Pleanála said guidelines on the location of telecom antennae and support structures published by the Department of the Environment in 1996 made it a requirement that free standing masts should only be located in the immediate surrounds of villages “as a last resort”.

In addition, the board pointed out that the guidelines stated that masts should also only be located as a last resort in a residential area if alternative sites were either unavailable or unsuitable.

“It is considered that the proposed development would constitute a highly obtrusive development immediately abutting established housing within the village of Watergrasshill,” the board ruled.

It said the mast would also have a significant overbearing impact on nearby homes and would “contribute substantially to the erosion of the visual amenities of residents at this location.”

Cork County Council has granted retrospective permission for the mast on the basis it had been in use for over 20 years and recognising the importance of providing modern telecommunications across the country.

Temporary retrospective permission for the mast had previously been granted in 2011 but it expired in July 2018.

Council planners also considered that the location was not of high landscape value and that the retention of the mast would not unduly compromise the visual character of the area despite the proximity of almost 40 residential units.

Buzzing noise

One objector who lives close to the mast in the Glen Dara estate said it was a considerable eyesore and visually obtrusive.

Tarak Ben Amor claimed there was a constant buzzing noise from the mast and from the fans of associated equipment and he believed it was dangerous and a health risk, especially to young children.

Mr Ben Amor said he had taken radiation measurements from the mast and found them to be way above recommended limits – a claim disputed by Three who said it was compliant with international guidelines on exposure to electro-magnetic fields.

The company had argued that telecom masts were frequently located in close proximity to housing, particularly in urban areas.

Three claimed a growth in the number of houses in Watergrasshill further justified the need to retain the structure as there was an increased demand for telecom services in the area.

It also stated the loss of the site would create significant coverage difficulties for three mobile phone operators and would possibly require the need for additional masts around Watergrasshill.

Three said it had investigated complaints about noise from the mast and adjustments were made with subsequent readings not exceeding recommended levels.

The company promised it would carry out landscaping work around the site to mitigate any perceived negative visual impact it was having.

However, an inspector with An Bord Pleanala said significant residential development had taken place in the immediate vicinity of the mast since it was previously granted planning permission eight years ago.

“It has developed from being a rural area to now distinctively forming a growing residential suburb of Watergrasshill,” the inspector observed.

He added: “Unquestionably, in my opinion, there is an unacceptable overbearing impact.”

The inspector said Three Ireland had also failed to address the issue of alternative sites in its application for retention permission.

He concluded that the existence of the mast was also likely to have an adverse impact on property values in the area.

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