By Dave Young and Susan McFie

On June 24th over 70 members of the public packed into Hastings District Council chamber to hear the leader, Peter Chowney, answer questions on the future rollout of a 5G phone network.

Written queries had already been tabled and answered, this forum was to allow their authors to ask supplementary questions.

When asked by Barbara Lowe if HBC had any 5G strategy, Councillor Chowney answered that they did not. Lowe referred to a letter she had received from Amber Rudd stating UK government’s intention ‘to be a world leader in 5G and to ensure that the majority of the population have access to a 5G signal by 2027.’

In reference to an earlier FOI request concerning 5G and LED street lighting Chowney said that street lighting was dealt with by ESCC. Liz Bygrave said her local councillor had informed her that in the event of a 5G roll out using lampposts, there would need to be a planning application. This would be a public document and HBC would be asked for their comments.

Many of those attending the meeting were members of the group ‘5G Free Hastings’ founded by Liz Bygrave who became involved in raising awareness of 5G technologies in February this year. She began working under the umbrella of a national group and then in May founded 5G Free Hastings to provide a local forum for discussion and action. The group is ‘committed to raising awareness and taking action around the health, environmental and privacy issues to do with the 5G rollout, smart technology and the Internet of Things (as well as microwave radiation in general).’

In a written question local organic farmer Joel Brook asked if the Council, when considering any 5G strategy, would take into account: 

• Current global opposition to a 5G rollout and appeals by scientists and doctors made to the UN, EU and WHO citing peer-reviewed science on the biological and health effects of microwave radiation. 

• Glastonbury and Frome councils in the UK have put a moratorium on 5G developments, as have various European and US municipalities. 

• The substantial body of scientific research showing biological harm to both humans and the wider environment from existing levels of microwave radiation even at very low levels of exposure.

Councillor Chowney replied that HBC might consider developing a 5G strategy if 5G were to be rolled out locally. This would include potential health impacts. He commented “some parts of Hastings have no phone signal at all, and 4G is somewhat limited. Local residents and businesses views would also be taken into consideration as part of the consultation process.”

Emily McMorran wanted to know whether HBC would be looking for evidence of independent research into health and environmental effects of non-thermal, [non-ionising] microwave radiation of 5G technology combined with existing exposures.

Chowney replied that Planning has to comply with local and national policy. Current regulations state ‘if a proposed installation meets the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection [ICNIRP] guidelines for public exposure then it will not be necessary to consider further health aspects and concerns.’

Planning permission for placement of ‘small cell’ 5G antennas is covered by ‘permitted development’ legislation at a national level, leaving local authorities with little power to refuse any application.

Councillor Chowney did however express concern that the research relied upon by governments is generally coming from industry rather than independent sources. And that many technologies we have relied upon have turned out to be unsafe. He referred to the agricultural chemical glyphosate, now being banned around the world. 

John Briggs referred to the issue of electro-hypersensitivity, which according to EM Radiation Research Trust UK affects up to 8% of the population. The European Parliament Resolution of 2009 called upon member states to recognise EHS as a disability. And the EU Council of Europe has advised member states to provide ‘white zones’ [areas free of microwave radiation.] Given the likelihood that 5G would increase microwave radiation exposure had HBC considered making provision of white zones to help mitigate effects on local people? Briggs also referred to actions around the world to reduce children’s exposure to Wi-Fi in schools and concerns that children may absorb far more radiation than adults. Was HBC considering the problem?

Chowney replied that the policy team were not aware of any plans for white zones. EU or international requirements would need to be part of UK legislation before the council could implement them. Local schools now have varying policies on wireless networks. The councillor’s influence only extended to Sandown Primary where he is a governor.

During the course of the meeting several councillors were heard commenting to the effect that council meetings had never been so well attended.

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