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School community wins fight against planned phone tower

A West Melbourne school community is rejoicing after thwarting plans for a mobile phone tower to be built just metres from Haileybury College’s city campus.

A controversial plan by Telecommunications giant Telstra to erect a phone tower at 1-7 Jeffcott St, West Melbourne, sparked an uproar from parents and neighbouring residents after they learned of the plans in June.

But after launching a petition, the community has been successful in its bid to axe the proposed tower – with Telstra now backing off while it reviews its options.

It comes as the City of Melbourne intervened saying the nature of the proposed tower required a local planning permit. 

Concerned parents and residents rallied to oppose the Telstra tower which they were told could have been up to two-storeys high, and 12-14 metres from Haileybury’s playgrounds and early learning centre.

The community launched a petition to halt the proposed tower after citing concerns it would be unsightly and pose health risks including high levels of exposure to electromagnetic energy.   

A Telstra spokesperson said it was exploring options in the West Melbourne area to build a phone tower as it was “regularly looking for opportunities to further enhance our customers’ mobile experience”.

“We look forward to working with the local council and the community throughout this process,” the spokesperson said.

Parent Darren Vella, whose children attend Haileybury College, said while he understood companies such as Telstra needed to provide adequate coverage for customers, he believed “we all have a responsibility to adopt a risk averse approach when it comes to the wellbeing of children”.

“The tower could not have been any closer to the school unless it was on the school itself,” Mr Vella said.

“It is incredulous and shameful that Telstra would put convenience and its commercial interests above the concerns of parents and the long-term interests of children especially when there are many alternative sites, which Telstra had failed to investigate for suitability, which are not so close to the school.”

“If Telstra elects to proceed with installing towers at the same site, it can expect a greater community uprising.”

Mr Vella said the concerns of the community were “effectively ignored” by Telstra, and it was “subsequently uncovered” that Telstra had entered into a lease with the owners of 7 Jeffcott St for the purpose of the towers prior to any consultation with the local community, “indicating consultation would be a tick box exercise”.

But he praised the City of Melbourne’s Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece for listening to the community, saying he had been “fantastic” in investigating the matter and discovering that Telstra also failed to obtain a planning permit.

The intervention of Cr Reece came as Mr Vella said a number of parents had complained about the “defective consultation” carried out by Telstra to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the City of Melbourne, Telstra and local and federal members of parliament.

According to Mr Vella, the Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment Code “expressly notes that sensitive locations such childcare centres and schools should be factored into planning and consultation”.

Cr Reece said the outcome showed what a united community could achieve and was “very pleased and grateful that Telstra has made the sensible decision to review its plans for a telecommunications tower of this size in this location”.

“This is a win for people power and the efforts of the local school community,” the Deputy Lord Mayor said.

“Telstra’s investment in telecommunications infrastructure in Melbourne is very welcome. We will continue to work closely with Telstra to identify suitable locations and the scale of towers needed to deliver a leading 4G and 5G network.”

“We need world-class telco services and we also need to ensure the community has a voice in decisions that affect local neighbourhoods and local schools.”

In a statement, the City of Melbourne said it had “reasonable doubt” that the specific characteristics of the proposed tower’s scale and location meant the tower “is not exempt from requiring a local planning permit”.

Caroline Merrick, head of Haileybury city campus, said, “We are delighted that our community voices and concerns have been heard on this very important matter, and we are very appreciative of the support from the Deputy Lord Mayor and the Melbourne City Council.”   

According to the latest research from health authorities, there are no established health effects from exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic energy emitted from mobile phone towers.

Pictured: Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece and head of Haileybury College city campus Caroline Merrick are delighted that Telstra have held off plans of erecting a phone tower near the school grounds.

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