Kuils River residents have been roused into action after a municipal planning authority approved a cell mast at a special-needs school.
Children from Grade R age to matric attend the Jan Kriel School. Early last month, the Municipal Planning Tribunal gave MTN permission to put up the mast at the school.
According to the Jan Kriel Institute, which owns the ground the school is on, the mast will be moved further onto the property because residents objected to it be built near the road.
Dr Stephanus Herholdt, director of the Jan Kriel Institute, said that initially the planners, Warren Pettersen Planning, had chosen the roadside site to give technicians 24-hour access to the mast through its own dedicated gate.
But residents objected, saying the mast would “pollute the visual landscape”, cause traffic congestion during construction and pose health risk.
MTN then moved the site deeper into the school grounds. This means engineers will only have access to the mast during school hours, subject to the school’s approval each time.
“They have had to give up 24-hour access,” Dr Herholdt said.
The mast will also be disguised.
“There is a pine tree forest on the premises and the mast will be close to that. It will be made to look like a tree,” Dr Herholdt said.
But this has not appeased residents, and the original objectors told Northern News they were annoyed at not being told that the tribunal would be discussing the mast. Very quickly they organised themselves into a group, and, within a day of the Northern News’ enquiry, plans were afoot to appeal the decision and request that the mast be moved at least another 70m onto the school grounds.
John October said: “Jan Kriel has huge space, and therefore has more than enough options to locate the mast elsewhere. Our petition and letters of objection asked for at least 100m from the road, and we made reference to the mast at De Kuilen High School as an example.”
Mr October said he was not opposed to the mast itself, because “we live in a technological age”, but he took issue with its location.
Another resident, Dr Viljoen Thom, said: “The pine forest is right next to my property. The new location is 30m into their property, right in front of my property.”
In his earlier objection to the mast, Dr Thom requested that the school meet with residents.
“Clearly this is not the correct way to handle this project,” he said.
The residents also complained that they had received no feedback to their input and that they had not been informed about the tribunal meeting.
The tribunal’s chairman, David Daniels, said it was not standard policy for the tribunal to notify objectors when an issue would be tabled, but objectors could ask for that information either from the city’s regional offices’ admin staff or the relevant case officer.
Notices sent to affected property owners explained how to submit a request to address the tribunal directly, he said.
The Northern News asked the City what its policy was on cell towers at schools and near homes.
Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said City policy made no reference to cell masts on school grounds, but a tower could not be put up closer than 50m to a home.
According to MTN, the mast’s new site will be 65m from the closest residence. In its submission to sub-council, the company said it had no mast in the area and had exhausted all other options, such as rooftop installations.
Mamello Raborifi, MTN’s spokeswoman said the mast’s height had been lowered and its location moved to accommodate residents’ concerns.
“MTN relocated the mast further from the residential buildings, reduced its height to 15m, aesthetically made the mast to look like a tree and placed it amongst the high-growing trees to minimise its visual impact on the neighbourhood.”
The mast could not be moved any further into the school property because its height had been lowered, reducing its coverage, she said.
“Moving the site further away will hinder its ability to provide sufficient coverage for the targeted residents. In addition, moving the site further from the property boundary will also interfere with the daily operations of the landlord.”
Responding to residents’ fears about cell masts being a health hazard, she said many studies over several years had failed to prove that cell mast radiation caused illness.
“MTN is committed to establishing a safe and reliable mobile phone network that complies with international safety guidelines,” she said.