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Date Published: Thursday 01 April 2004

Orange bill is bitter pill for city

Financial chiefs in Winchester are being made to swallow a bitter pill over Orange's controversial plans for a phone mast on Byron Avenue.

Winchester City Council have revealed their legal bill for appealing against the Government's decision to uphold the telecommunications giant's appeal, has reached more than £150,000.

The news is unlikely to please residents of the Winchester area, not only because of the cost, but because civic bosses are also warning the prohibitive costs involved in challenging big business and losing, may limit future stances against unwanted applications.

Leading mast campaigner, Karen Barratt, said: "I find the whole situation quite frightening. If this ruling means councils won't be willing to take on big business when they or the community think the businesses' plans are wrong, then it is a worrying decision."

Mrs Barratt added that the campaign group itself had already spent in excess of £20,000 ensuring they were represented at the appeal hearing in London.

The saga began when Orange submitted plans in January, 2001, for a mobile phone mast on land at Byron Avenue, just metres from Western Primary School.

Residents then formed a campaign group in a bid to stop the build amid fears about the effects the masts might have on health - particularly for schoolchildren.

Planning chiefs at the council then refused the application, sparking an appeal to the secretary of state by Orange over the reason behind the rejection. That appeal was upheld by the Government in August last year.

It left the council with a legal bill of £74,132 which was further compounded when an award for costs against the authority was also handed out to the tune of £78,194 - giving a total bill for refusing Orange's plans of £152,326.

At Wednesday's meeting of Winchester City cabinet, those in charge of the authority's finances said the bill would be met by various means, including leftovers from some of last year's budgets and money from the planning grants reserves fund. They also said they hoped the sum would eventually be reduced following negotiations.

But the members also warned the effects of the settlement may influence future decisions. Thérèse Evans, deputy leader of the council, said: "We were right not to go further with this appeal because of the amount it would have cost us.

"It's an expensive lesson to learn, but we did it for the right reason, in supporting local residents and their concerns. However, it is a lesson that may stop us appealing against future decisions because of the prohibitive costs."

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