Sefton Council is reminding telecoms providers of the need to be clear when consulting with residents over the erection of often controversial telephone masts.

Following concerns raised by Councillors and residents, Sefton Council’s Chief Planning Officer Derek McKenzie has encouraged telecoms operators to ditch what he describes as ‘unintelligible’ documents used during the planning application process for the erection of telephone masts and other infrastructure.

Mr McKenzie said that members of the public can often find the language telecoms providers use when consulting with communities about what can be sensitive changes in their area to be ‘confusing’ and ‘opaque’ 

The concern is that this type of language can discourage people from providing valuable feedback.

A number of operators have since responded to Sefton Council to say they are keen to improve how they communicate.

Cllr Daren Veidman, Sefton Council’s Cabinet Member for Planning, said:  

“We recognise that there are members of our community who find the siting of telecommunications masts both concerning and controversial.

“Yet, unintelligible language used in communications with local residents and organisations, does nothing to encourage feedback or open discussion.

“Describing equipment in terms such as a ‘monopole’, ‘furniture style’, ‘GRP shroud’, ‘antennas’ and ‘cabinets’, without further explanation, is simply meaningless for most people and we want to work with operators to change this.

“The irony is not lost on us that a telecommunications operator needs to get better at the way they communicate.”

The frustrations of Sefton residents have also been raised with the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, as well as in the House of Commons.

Cllr Veidman said: 

“When considering such proposals, Sefton Council’s Planning Committee follows national and international guidelines.

“However, the way in which telecoms companies consult with both the Local Authority and members of the community prior to the submission of a planning application needs to be clear and concise.

 “Recently a Councillor, having received a consultation about a replacement mast which was Permitted Development, wrote to the Chief Planning Officer and me asking :  “What do these documents mean?  I cannot decipher what they are about and how I should interpret for residents?”  

“If these pre-application consultations are not easy to understand then they clearly fail at the first hurdle as a form of consultation.

“This means that Councillors are unable to carry out their role of serving and representing their communities effectively and residents may never be fully aware of what changes could be happening in the area where they live.

“While I understand the legislative context within which telecommunications companies operate, they need to work much harder to engage and consult effectively with local communities when bringing forward such proposals.”

Cllr Veidman said: 

“I am pleased that the response to our letter has been positive and operators are showing a willingness to improve their language.

“We want to work with operators in a constructive manner to improve the way they communicate with our Councillors and local communities on these very sensitive matters.”

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