PLANS to erect a mobile phone mast on an ancient parish church are being resisted in a village made famous by an 18th century naturalist.
Objectors in Selborne, Hampshire, condemn the scheme as “sacrilege” and “smacking of corruption” and have handed out protest leaflets; a petition is also being launched. The plan to place the mast on the tower of the 12th century church is also criticised by the Council for the Protection of Rural England.
The mobile telephone company One-2-One is offering to pay the Church £5,500 a year for five years for the right to erect the 16ft mast on St Mary’s church. In addition, it would build a new boiler room and a lavatory for parishioners which would also house mobile phone equipment.
The mast will improve coverage in the area for mobile phone users. The village was put on the map by the publication in 1789 of Gilbert White’s best-selling The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, which has become a classic. The village green beside the church was once described by the naturalist as “the delight of old and young and a place of much resort in summer evenings”.
The Gilbert White museum remained above the fray yesterday. Other residents were not so reticent. Lady Caulson, the widow of a diplomat, condemned the idea of a radio mast as “deeply unspiritual”. She said: “It is gimmicky and it smacks very strongly of corruption. I feel that Mammon is taking up the church in a humbuggy way. I don’t want to be a spoilsport. I am a very broad-thinking Christian. But this is our spiritual heritage. We are very proud of our church.”
The vicar of St Mary’s, the Rev John Preston has the backing of the parish church council for the mast deal. Alan Rushton, a church warden, said the mast would not be unsightly because it would not be much more prominent than a flagpole already on the church.
He said the objections to the scheme were “misconceptions and rank nonsense. The Church has always been involved in commercial pressures. What’s new? Churches are meant to have toilets and this gives us the opportunity to do that. If One-2-One didn’t go ahead, we would have to do that anyway. This gives us breathing space financially.”
Before the mast can be erected, the diocese and planners must be consulted. Planning permission is not, however, guaranteed: Selborne is in an area of outstanding natural beauty, and East Hampshire district council turned down plans earlier this year for an Orange mobile telephone mast to be erected on farmland.
The Council for the Protection of Rural England has voiced strong criticism of the proliferation of mobile phone masts in the countryside and has been pressing the Government to change its guidelines on the masts because too many were going up on churches and even cathedrals. A spokesman said: “We are concerned that the environment has been suffering unnecessarily.” There are an estimated 12,000 mobile telephone masts throughout Britain, many of them on churches and schools.
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