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Wednesday Oct 12, 2016

Property owners decry new cellphone mast

Stellenbosch residents are the latest in a spate of unhappy communities in the Western Cape to rail against the proliferation of cellphone masts. They say the towers are springing up overnight, creating not only an eyesore in South Africa's oldest town, but also sparking health concerns.

The mast at Stellenbosch High School

Several of the towers erected in recent months are located near schools and homes.

A mast erected on the corner of Bird and Merriman streets this week, is the latest to spark outrage, following one at Stellenbosch High School in close proximity to a primary and two pre-schools, two weeks ago.

The Stellenbosch Ratepayers'Association (SRA) has accused the municipality of being secretive about approving the applications and of not engaging with the public.

SRA chairman Andre Pelser said he was being inundated with complaints from residents that they were unaware masts were being erected near their properties.

"There's been no transparency and no public participation," said Pelser.

"We want to retain the character and beauty of the town.

"The visual aesthetic is quite high for residents and the mountain views are important to them, but we are also concerned about radiation and other health aspects."

Pelser said it appeared the cellphone mast issue had become a Western Cape problem.

Residents from Constantia, Heathfield and Kommetjie have all been embroiled in recent spats with the city council over the erection of cellphone masts.

"What sets us apart is our natural environment which is being blighted by cellphone masts," said Pelser.

Upon inquiry from the Cape Argus, the Stellenbosch Municipality was unable to produce any information related to council approvals for the cellphone masts and could not say how many had recently been erected.

However, correspondence from the municipality's spatial planning, heritage and environment department to the SRA indicated it had received 39 applications for masts in the last 18 months.

Parent Ansune Kroger said she was also concerned about the health impact of the cellphone masts near schools.

"Not only does the tower affect our environmental space, as a parent of little ones, one is concerned about the negative radiation impact of such a tower and influence on growing little humans," she said.

A pensioner living close to the university said the municipality refused to supply a map of where the masts would be erected and she was concerned about the effect on her property value.

"They are going up like mushrooms. What they are doing is unacceptable and unethical.

"The municipality keeps us in the dark and there are serious health concerns," she said.

Residents of Paradyskloof have also objected to an application to erect another mast in the area, saying not all of them had been informed.

"There are already two masts on either side of me (one on the golf course and one at the tennis courts) for which there was no public participation process or opportunity to object. I did not even know these masts were being erected.

"This is an outrage," said resident Zagryda Nicol.

In a letter to the SRA, the municipality's director of planning Dupre Lombaard said 72 applications for telecommunication infrastructure had been received since 2007, of which 51 were approved and eight were still in process.

The municipality had no policy on telecommunication infrastructure, but said it had changed its current planning procedures to make the applicant responsible for informing affected parties within a 700m radius.

If an application was within an established land use right, no public participation was required.

Pelser said if the cellphone masts were desperately needed to improve signal at the town, then this, too, had to be communicated to residents. Cellphone companies should also consider sharing masts.

Cape Argus


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