A group of Shaftesbury residents wants the Town Council to call a public meeting to discuss concerns over the introduction of 5G mobile networks. Opponents claim that 5G could cause cancer, but public health agencies say UK safety standards are met.
Consumers will soon be encouraged to obtain new, 5G-compatible phones as the faster mobile network is rolled out across Britain. It’s all about speed. Massive bandwidth will allow users to download of a high definition movie in seconds. Increased network capacity should prevent the networks being overloaded at major events and festivals. And, as 5G interactions come with virtually no delay, the technology could make driverless vehicles a reality, help councils to improve traffic management or allow surgeons to operate on patients remotely.
But Shaftesbury resident Sandra New opposes 5G’s introduction. She says that speed isn’t everything. “It doesn’t have many advantages, only that it’s superfast broadband. Everybody’s rushing through life at hundred miles an hour. We don’t want it,” she said.
On 28th October, Sandra’s friends, jewellery shop owners Martin and Tina Dyer, addressed the Town Council. The Dyers have called for a debate over this next generation of mobile technology.
Tina is worried about the cancer risks of 5G. “Brain tumours are now the number one cause of death in the under 40s,” Tina told ThisIsAlfred.com. “If you think about the amount of people that are on their phones all the time, that makes sense.”
Tina’ son-in-law has, sadly, been diagnosed with a brain tumour. “He has spent a lot of time on the phone. I know it’s not a 5G phone, it’s a 4G phone, but it’s all radiation in the atmosphere next to your brain,” she said.
The NHS and Public Health England say that there has been, ‘no convincing evidence’ of a link between cancer and mobile use. They are not saying that mobiles are safe, because heavy use is a relatively new practice. The Health Service says that they support further study.
Mrs Dyer wants that extended research undertaken before 5G is switched on in Shaftesbury. “It’s basically an untested technology. It’s impossible to test it unless it’s actually functioning in the field and there’s not been enough in-depth research by the World Health Organisation,” said Tina.
Many of the cancer fears surround 5G’s operation on a higher frequency than the current 3G or 4G mobile networks. A higher frequency increases carrying capacity and means faster network speeds. In some countries, 5G will use ‘millimetre wave’ or ‘mm Wave’ frequencies from the network launch. Those frequencies are still closer to the previous, existing technology than they are to the higher frequencies of potentially harmful, X-ray and gamma rays. But that doesn’t allay the concerns of opponents of 5G.
“It will be a phone beam which will be a much tighter mmWave, which is far more harmful. It can penetrate the skin much deeper. The worry is what it can do to our cellular structures and also to the bees and the environment,” said Tina.
The UK mobile operators say they will meet the safety guidelines of The International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection, which advises Public Health England on safe levels. But Tina doesn’t accept the recommendations of these agencies. “These bodies have actually a lot of vested interest in the industry, and therefore, I don’t believe that they are producing unbiased levels for the safety of all of the inhabitants of the UK,” she said.
Tina’s key point of reference is an online document which poses the question ‘Is 5G Safe?’ It has been written by a body called ‘The Physicians Health Initiative for Radiation in the Environment’ who oppose 5G on safety grounds. “It’s very good research, which we obviously have read a lot. Children are obviously more vulnerable, but animals and plants can even be affected, too,” said Tina.
The mmWave frequencies are used in the USA, but Vodafone say that in the UK, the government has picked 5G technology that uses radio frequencies close to the current 4G networks. That means in Britain, mobile operators will be able to use the same masts which are currently providing 4G services for 5G. A statement on the Vodafone website says that, ‘neither the radio frequencies nor the number of masts will increase dramatically in the UK.’
Some of the existing masts will have to be increased in height, though. In August 2019, the Government began a consultation on changes to planning rules to facilitate 5G. They want to allow the heightening and widening of existing mobile masts without the need to gain planning consent.
But a House of Commons briefing paper presented on 6th September indicates that the more controversial, high-frequency transmissions could be introduced in the future. The document outlines high frequency trials.
And a Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport report published in February 2018 warned that bus stops, billboards and trees could interfere with the high frequency 5G signal, so smaller base stations will be needed in built-up areas. Recently, when Frome Town Council debated 5G, their Town Clerk reported his understanding that antennas, ‘about the size of a grapefruit mounted on buildings and lamps posts’ would be used.
The Dyers are concerned that 5G could be radiated from localised antennae and Martin Dyer is unhappy that trees might be felled due to signal blockage. He says he doesn’t want to ‘sacrifice the lungs of the planet’ for 5G.
Dorset Council administers Tree Preservation Orders, which currently safeguard ‘listed’ trees. Their spokesman Colin Wood tells ThisisAlfred that the Electronic Communications Code gives mobile operators powers to ‘lop or cut back’ any tree or other vegetation that could interfere with apparatus. He spoke to a member of Dorset Council’s planning team, who did not feel this would give operators powers to fell protected trees.
Both Tina and Sandra are unhappy that the population hasn’t be asked whether it wants 5G introduced. “There’s been no public consent. There’s been no public information,” said Tina. “Nobody’s been really informed about what this means for all of us. It’s not informed consent that we have given, as people who will be affected.”
And that’s why the Dyers would like Shaftesbury Town Council to assess local representatives’ views, and to try and put the brakes on the 5G rollout in our town. “A delay has been declared by councils in Totnes and Kingsbridge in Devon. A precautionary approach is being taken in Glastonbury, Frome and Shepton Mallet locally. They are inviting town councillors to the meetings to inform them. Once they’ve been informed, a lot of the councillors are then on board, and realise that delay is necessary before this is allowed to proceed,” said Tina.
Frome’s Town Clerk had cautioned that Frome Town Council, ‘has no power to permit or halt the rollout of 5G if it reaches Frome’. Instead he advised that Frome councillors could follow Glastonbury’s lead and opposes the rollout of 5G as a ‘precautionary principle’.
Martin accepts that Shaftesbury Town Council’s powers are similarly limited but he says a vote for a 5G delay would send a signal. “Most people’s attempts of approaching this at a governmental level have fallen on deaf ears. We’ve already written to our politician, Simon Hoare, back in June. We’ve had no reply to the letter,” said Martin. “If we can approach it on a local level, if we can get some backing from our town councillors and the rejection the rollout, then we can take it to the next level, to county level.”
But it seems that the county is supporting the introduction of 5G. Dorset Council’s Corporate Director for Digital and Change, Deborah Smart, issued a statement to ThisIsAlfred. She said: “We are really keen to explore ways to deliver improved digital connectivity for those who live in, work in and visit our area, whether that’s fast fibre broadband or improved mobile coverage. This ambition is included in the draft Dorset Council Plan.”
Following the Dyer’s meeting address, Shaftesbury Town Council’s Clerk, Claire Commons, said that town hall staff will gather more evidence, which will be shared with councillors who will decide whether it is something they wish to debate in the future.
There’s no word on when 5G network will launch in Shaftesbury but the government wants most of the UK to have access by 2027. In some area of Britain, the 5G mobile data system has been switched on. Users are already accessing the internet at exceptionally fast speeds on phones in parts of London, Bristol and Liverpool. Selected rural districts, including the Isles of Scilly, will gain 5G coverage soon. Shaftesbury’s 5G objectors may need to act fast if they want to have any chance of slowing down the roll out here.