Rising mast concern

The church where MTN to erect a cell mast.

Cell masts in residential areas have been fiercely debated by environmentalists, network providers and those residents who have been struggling to stop the towers from going up in their neighbourhoods.

The latest cell mast issue was raised by Steenberg residents who are now petitioning to stop an application to rezone a piece of land at the Galilean Church in Galilee Close.

Residents received a letter from the City of Cape Town to inform them of the application to rezone a 9m2 portion of the property from a residential zone to a utility zone to enable MTN to erect a cell tower.

Residents have, however, been vocal about their dismay at the possibility of the tower being put up in their area.

Joyce Little, who is in cancer remission, lives directly behind where the tower would be erected and said they are objecting to the rezoning and subsequently the erection of the cell mast because of the negative impact it would have on their health.

“I am a cancer survivor and I have other illnesses. This cell mast right on our doorstep means that this will definitely affect my health,” she said.

Mr Little presented Southern Mail with a letter from her doctor stating that her illnesses could be aggravated by being exposed directly to the magnetic field of radiation emitted by the proposed cell tower.

Vernon Little has done some investigation into the matter.

He drove around Steenberg, Grassy Park and Retreat said he counted a total of 14 cell towers.

“These things are popping up everywhere and are being put up in residential areas. These big cell phone companies don’t care that the radiation from these towers poses some serious health risks for those living in close proximity to it and our property value will drop because of it,” said Mr Little.

“We don’t have a problem with cell masts, we just don’t want them to be built in residential areas when there are so many industrial areas where they can put these things up,” said Mr Little.

“We are pensioners who have been living in this area for over 40 years. We want to live in peace but we will not sit by idly and watch our neighbourhood and health deteriorate because of cell towers,” added Mr Little.

After finding out about the proposed cell tower, Mr Little had his home evaluated by a real estate company. A letter from the company stated that the unsightly mast would have a negative impact on the achievable sale price as prospective buyers would, because of the perceived health risks, look at other houses or offer a below market price.

Gabriel Lewis, who also lives in the area, is also dead-set against the erection of the cell mast.

“I have worked very hard to obtain what I have, which includes my home. It is unfair that my property will be devalued because of someone else, or big companies’ greed. We will petition and get everyone on board to try and stop this from happening,” said Mr Lewis.

MTN spokesperson Mamello Raborifi confirmed that the operator applied to have the land rezoned to erect a cell mast.

“As a law-abiding corporate citizen, MTN will be subject to the applicable by-laws and prescribed public participation processes.

“The deployment of network infrastructure is determined, by among others, requests from affected communities to improve coverage and quality of service.

MTN is guided by the international health and safety guidelines as well as provisions set out by the Department of Health,” said Mr Mamello.

Brett Herron, Mayoral committee member for Transport and Urban Development confirmed that the rezoning application is currently in the advertising process.

“A decision will be made by the Municipal Planning Tribunal once the applicant (MTN) has commented on the objections by residents. The application will be assessed in terms of the requirements of the Municipal Planning By-law and the City’s Telecommunication Mast Infrastructure Policy will be used to guide the assessment,” said Mr Herron.

When asked how many cell towers are in the Steenberg, Grassy Park and Retreat area, Mr Herron said it is “not possible” to know the exact number of base stations but added that some don’t require land use permission.

Muna Lakhani, the Cape Town branch co-ordinator for Earthlife, an organisation which mobilises civil society around environmental issues, said they will meet with residents to discuss the issue .

The organisation was instrumental in a battle where Heathfield residents opposed an application to erect a cell tower at Heathfield station – the application was rejected.

The cut-off date for submissions to the council to approve or reject rezoning of the area earmarked for the mast is Monday February 27.