Rick Coetzee, Plumstead, Cape Town

The NG Kerk situated at 32 Ophir Road, Plumstead, was approached by Atlas Towers in 2017 under the pretences that there has been complaints of dropped calls in the area.

In the spirit of City Council Regulations regarding Public Participation, 60 registered letters were sent to surrounding neighbours.

There were 48 objections submitted confirming that there are no problems with reception in the area. This came as no surprise as there are already 6 towers in a radius of a 1000-meter diameter of the proposed site.

What makes this particular application so unacceptable is the fact that 4 properties will be situated less than 30 meters from the base of the tower, and 14 properties will be shadowed by the 50-meter “Public Safety Zone”.

Due to the unacceptable close proximity of this tower, concerns on health issues and property values were raised, among many other valid arguments.

In spite of an 80% objection rate, the application was approved subject to conditions. This matter has now proceeded to Appeal stage, and it is clear that “public participation” is merely a matter of policy and has very little power.

The community engaged with the church advising them of the absolute and total disapproval of the mast and requested the church to withdraw their application.

The response from the church left the community with no other option other than to suspect that they have already signed a contract with the Celltower company. Any attempt to retract or cancel will cost the church a lot of money. Money the church does not have.

With current developments, cellmast companies are aggressively competing with one another to dominate residential areas. Churches, schools and sport clubs are easy targets as they are often short of funds and eager to earn more revenue.

Because of the close proximity of churches to their surrounding neighbours, it is vital that the community educate churches on how they feel about living in close proximity to cellmasts and have open discussions around various issues such as:

  • Importance of early communication with surrounding neighbours
  • Health issues and the ongoing research
  • Negative effects on Property valuations to nearby neighbours
  • Consequent bad relations between the church and the surrounding community
  • Alternative means of generating revenue
  • Seeking legal advice before entering into any binding contract with a cellmast company.

In the case of NG Kerk Plumstead, there is a lesson to be learned. Open and early communication is very important and can save everybody a lot of stress.

It so happened that a Fibre Optics company was looking for a 32 square meter space earlier this year to install their base unit in the area. The neighbours put the company in contact with the church, and they offered monthly rent similar to what the church hoped to earn from the cellmast contract. The church turned their offer down for the suspected reasons mentioned earlier in this article. Fibre Optics would have been a far better alternative as a revenue-earning option as opposed to a seventh mast in a thousand-meter radius.

Another advantage of this option is that the church would have received their first rental sixty days after taking up the offer while the cellmast application is going to end up in appeal processes and potentially a protracted legal battle.

In conclusion, my advice is to

  • Study your neighbourhood, identify the potential areas that cellmast companies may recognize, get communicating with and educating the churches, schools and sport clubs in your area.
  • Get to know your Ward Councillor and your local Rate Payers Association.
  • Be prepared because once the application process starts, it is very difficult to stop it.
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