Thursday, 25 April 2019

Courts rule councils can’t ignore scientific standards for phone towers

NSW LogoThe weight of scientific evidence behind Australia’s safety standards for mobile phone tower emissions cannot be ignored because of a perception that phone towers are bad for health, a New South Wales court has concluded.


In a judgement handed down in January, Land and Environment court Commissioner Jan Murrell said that while some residents may be worried about the safety of mobile phone towers, it is not up to the courts or local councils to set aside the Australian safety standard when assessing applications for new network infrastructure.


“I acknowledge that some people do have concerns, but the role of the Court is to assess the development application in terms of the factual evidence and in terms of the appropriate adopted Australian Standards.” Commissioner Murrell said in her Judgement.


“And it is acknowledged that while some people may not choose to live near a telecommunications tower, that in itself is not reason to refuse the application before me.”


The judgement gave Telstra the green light to construct a new 21 meter monopole to provide mobile coverage to residents in the suburb of Kelso on the outskirts of Bathurst in regional NSW.


Telstra was forced to take the case to court after Bathurst councillors voted to reject their application last August based on health fears, the towers proximity to nearby homes, an aged care facility and schools and the visual impact the facility would have on the local area.


Commissioner Murrell said a landmark case in NSW had already looked in to the perceived health risks from phone towers and ruled that there was no logical or reasonable basis to refuse a base station on health grounds because the Australia Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Authority’s (ARPANSA) standard was based on strong scientific evidence and embraced a precautionary approach.


“The Court now moves to the health hazards and risk assessment and in this regard the Chief Judge of this Court in Telstra Corp Ltd v Hornsby Shire Council provided a judgment which clearly sets out the Court's role in the assessment process and the Court is not to substitute standards where there are clearly identified scientific standards such as ARPANSA,” Commissioner Murrell said.


“The Court cannot set aside standards on the basis of concerns that may be articulated and if held even genuinely by the local residents.”


The court heard electromagnetic radiation emissions from the planned Telstra tower in Kelso would be well below Australia’s safety standard, which already contained a significant safety factor.


“I note that the exposure ratings as predicted are well within the limits of the ARPANSA standard,” Commissioner Murrell said.


“The calculations in terms of the nearest residences to the proposed subject site are many times below the ARPANSA exposure limit, within 1,100 to 8,000 times less than the exposure limits of ARPANSA.”


“I also note as identified by the Chief Judge in Hornsby v Telstra that in fact: "The ARPANSA standard is very precautionary and as such there is no reasonable basis on which the Court would adopt a more precautionary measure than that contained in ARPANSA."


Commissioner Murrell also dismissed complaints about the visual impact the phone tower would have on the local area saying ‘infrastructure required for urban purposes is an accepted part of the built environment’.


“The proposal is one that has been looked at in terms of minimising visual impact in the area,” Murrell said.


“I am satisfied that the proposal is acceptable in the residential surrounding area and will not be overpowering or overwhelming in terms of the visibility of the tower.”

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