Panel approves Vergesig tower

An artist's impression of the proposed cell mast.

The mayor’s advisory panel has given the go-ahead to erect a cell tower at a Durbanville church – despite objections from residents.

This comes after a consulting company appealed a decision by the Municipal Planning Tribunal, which rejected its application to erect a cell tower at AGS Church, in St John’s Road, Vergesig.

The original application by the church to let Highwave Consultants build the 25m-high tower, was supported by the City’s town planner but then rejected by the tribunal on Tuesday April 11 (“Tribunal rejects cell mast application,” Northern News, May 4) because it would have been on the crest of a rise and posed too much of a negative visual impact.

Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said at the time that the applicant had also not motivated its choice of site, offered alternatives or adequately shown how the proposed mast would be blended into the landscape, all of which was required in terms of the City’s policy on telecommunications mast infrastructure.

In its appeal, Highwave Consultants said an August 2016 memorandum had made a compelling argument for the mast and suggested alternatives.

Highwave said there was a growing need for denser cell-tower distribution to meet the demand of more smart devices and it was prepared to put up a 20m mast disguised as a tree instead of the standard 25m monopole design.

The advisory panel recommended that the appeal be upheld and the decision of the tribunal be set aside and replaced.

The panel said the potential visual impact would be mitigated by the updated proposal and the objections relating to the impact on resident’s view, health risks, property values and other impacts had been addressed. It noted that the proposal for the mast was informed by careful network planning to address the needs of the area.

Verne Jankielsohn, from the Vergesig-Aurora Residents’ Association, said they were disappointed by the decision and had not been given an opportunity to appear before the panel before it made its decision and recommendation to the mayor in favour of the mast and base station.

In its report, the panel said the appeal could be adequately determined by the documentation submitted and said the parties were given an opportunity to make written submissions for the original application and the appeal.

The City received 98 objection letters before the period for public input closed on Wednesday November 16, and 49 comments on the appeal.

“The council received a substantial amount of objection letters last year. A petition was done in the immediate area against this mast and base station leading up to the Municipal Planning Tribunal hearing. In less than six days, 202 residents signed this petition,” said Ms Jankielson.

Ms Jankielsohn said they were still trying to stop the mast and base station. They plan to take the case to the public protector and will be asking the City to answer questions in line with the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

“It is our constitutional right to protect our families, our homes and our environment,” she said.

Engineer and Vergesig resident Anton Esterhuizen previously told Northern News that he did not see the “need” for the tower, as there were already two within a 2.3km radius of the proposed site; fibre-optic cables would be installed in the area soon; and the neighbourhood had reached capacity and was also serviced by the commercial tower at the Ipic Centre.

However the advisory panel said there was a need for telecommunication support structures to be situated closer to one another due to the increased need for more efficient data connectivity in the Durbanville area.

In November last year, residents claimed the mast would hurt property values, make it harder to sell their homes, ruin the area’s rural feel and possibly even harm their health (“Residents say no to tower,” Northern News, November 10 2016). Residents also complained that they had not been properly consulted.

But church spokesman Cyril Rosalt had argued that there was no conclusive evidence that cell tower radiation harmed humans.

Northern News sent the City questions on last Thursday, but they did not respond by deadline; and Highwave did not respond to questions sent on Friday.