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National policy may impose 30m mobile mast on Jesus Green



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Artist's illustration of planned Park Street apart hotel at the root of the Jesus Green mast drama
Artist's illustration of planned Park Street apart hotel at the root of the Jesus Green mast drama

Cambridge City Council has found itself in a challenging position over the installation of a 30-metre mobile phone mast on Jesus Green.

The council said it opposes the structure being placed in Jesus Green, but added that it has received legal advice that it could not stop the structure being built there– even though it is both the landowner and planning authority.

The council said telecoms companies EE and Hutchinson 3G have served an emergency notice of intent to locate a mast on Jesus Green for a maximum of 18 months using 2015 legislation that gives utility companies sweeping powers. National laws are now pitted against local democracy because the use of the Permitted Development powers to install the mast overrule city council requests not to locate it on common land.

Moving the base station from Park Street car park to the common land – something the Labour-run council says it firmly opposes. Cllr Katie Thornburrow, Labour’s executive councillor for planning policy and open spaces at Cambridge City Council, is attempting to resolve the impasse.

The drama started in 2019 when Cambridge City Council decided to demolish its Park Street car park site and replace it with an aparthotel serviced apartment block with underground public parking. At a cost of £80-90m, the redevelopment would be the “biggest single financial investment” ever by the council.

The existing antenna on top of Park Street car park has to be removed because the city council is pressing ahead with the demolition and redevelopment of the site – although it has failed to identify a satisfactory alternative.

A suggestion to rehouse the antenna on top of its new Park Street aparthotel building after it has been built has not been taken up by the city council.

Then, last week, the application from Waldon Telecom for mobile firm EE was registered. The planning application was submitted by developer Marick Management and the Cambridge Investment Partnership – a joint venture between the city council and developer Hill.

Jesus Green mast - how it might look. Photo montage: Roy McGregor
Jesus Green mast - how it might look. Photo montage: Roy McGregor

Sweeping new powers given to developers has resulted in many new large masts – including the radar at Marshall and the new three 26-metre high sewage digesters due to be installed at Anglian Water’s Honey Hill sewage treatment centre – being built without public consultation or the agreement of local authorities. And also, in the case of Jesus Green, it allows utility companies to site a mast there without the city council’s permission as landowner.

The council’s current position is that, even though it could push for the antenna to be mounted on the aparthotel, it isn’t – and is instead crying “foul” when it comes to Jesus Green being the chosen location.

Cllr Thornburrow, outlining the council’s opposition to the plans, said: “Labour councillors are totally opposed to relocating the mast to Jesus Green or onto any of the city council’s common land, and we’ve taken legal advice on our powers to stop this happening.”

The application is to install the mast – and associated large boxes of plant and equipment located around the mast at ground level – for a temporary period. However opponents fear that, with no long-term solution identified in advance, the mast could easily become permanent by default.

Campaigners against the mast also argue that, even with a temporary period, a precedent will have been set and physical damage will remain.

Chair of the Park Street Residents Association, Roy MacGregor, said: “We feel we are being misled. The council’s own hotel development could easily accommodate new telecoms equipment, which is very limited, and can be hosted on the site scaffolding meanwhile. Why spoil Jesus Green and place it next to Park Street Primary School playing fields?”

Park Street residents have been joined by the Jesus Green Association, which champions the amenity and conservation of the public open space, and the Lib Dem city councillors in Market ward: Katie Porrer, Tim Bick and Anthony Martinelli.

Nicky Blanning, chair of Jesus Green Association, said: “Jesus Green has just been awarded Green Flag status which is a great accolade for the effective management of the open space, its biodiversity and conservation of landscape, buildings and structures. The proposed mobile phone mast and generator will destroy the very nature of this well loved and busy public space.”

Cllr Katie Thornburrow (44342099)
Cllr Katie Thornburrow (44342099)

Cllr Martinelli said: “It seems to us that the council, in its keenness to carry out its commercial hotel development on Park Street, has forgotten its responsibility to the people of the city and its heritage.

“If we’ve learned one thing during the pandemic, it’s that the value we all put on public open spaces is absolutely priceless; but yet again the council is not protecting them in that way.”

Hundreds of people have already signed an online petition calling on Cambridge City Council to prevent the mast being installed on Jesus Green.

Cllr Thornburrow said: “The situation is more complicated than has been suggested by opposition councillors. As executive councillor, my options are severely limited by national legislation that gave telecoms companies sweeping powers to put equipment up without planning consent and to use public land without needing the council’s agreement.

“We are as concerned about this as local residents.

“This last year has shown how important it is to stay connected. We will do everything we can to make sure that residents don’t lose that vital link to home schooling, shopping, neighbourhood support, GP services and work – as well as staying in touch with friends and family.

“We don’t want to see thousands of people lose their mobile signal. But there has to be a better way than taking up valuable public space, like Jesus Green, that has been so important in the last year.

“I’m working hard to find a solution, and a permanent position for the new base station and will, as an absolute minimum, put conditions on the temporary mast to ensure there is no possibility that it becomes a permanent fixture.”

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