RESIDENTS bitterly opposed to a phone mast being constructed near their homes fear an alleged planning mix-up over the scheme “opens the way to corruption”.

Tempers ran high at a meeting of Ulverston Town Council on Monday night (20), with councillors accusing Vodafone of using underhand tactics to bully the community into submission.

After a long-running dispute over an application made by Vodafone to build a 17.5m mobile phone antennae on the corner of Oakwood Drive, residents thought the battle had been won when South Lakeland District Council rejected the plans.

However, work on the site began yesterday after Vodafone claimed it was never informed of the council’s decision – allegedly due to a missspelled email – and under planning law it is entitled to go ahead.

Town councillor Colin Pickthall said: “We have heard that these actions have been perpetrated across the country already. Nobody as far as I know has taken it up in a court of law. Morally it is wrong and legally I hope we can prove it is legally wrong.

“It seemed to me that the email which SLDC says it sent it to did get to one of those email addresses. They, in my view, have had it.”

This view was echoed by several residents, one of whom, Pat Appleton, said: “If it’s so easy for a multi-national to say ‘we didn’t see this email’, it opens the way to corruption.”

Earlier, councillors Bob Brown and Norman Bishop-Rowe also expressed their fury at what they see as a complete disregard for local democracy.

Cllr Brown said: “I feel they are riding roughshod over democracy.”

Yesterday afternoon, contractors were ready to begin work at the corner of Oakwood Drive and Central Drive. Bemused and angry locals left their houses to try and halt their progress and to find out why work had begun in spite of permission being denied.

A spokesman for Vodafone said: “Vodafone needed to improve coverage to customers in Ulverston and submitted a planning application for a base station at Oakwood Drive.

“Under planning law, the local planning authority has a set time to refuse permission for this type of development. After that time period has elapsed and if no response is sent, approval is deemed to have been granted.

“In this case Vodafone has this sort of deemed consent to build the mast at Oakwood Drive.”

A spokesman for South Lakeland District Council said: “The application for the mast was not submitted under a planning application but through a Prior Notification procedure, which requires the planning authority to make a decision and for the applicant to have received that decision within 56 days of receipt.

“Under the terms determined by government, failure to notify the applicant of the decision within this period results in the automatic granting of permitted development and no further planning permission is required.

“The council carefully considered all representations made and a decision was taken to refuse the application.

“However, following an internal investigation, it is clear that the applicant was not notified of the council’s decision within the 56 day period.

“Under the terms of Prior Notification procedure the proposal therefore benefits from ‘deemed consent’ and the applicant is entitled to install the mast.

“The council recognises that this is incredibly frustrating for the residents and town councillors who objected to this proposal and can only apologise for the error. They can be assured that the council’s officers supported their view that this proposal should be refused.

“Steps have already been taken to ensure that such a mistake does not happen again.’’

Croftlands phone mast: A background

For several months, locals have been fighting the construction of a phone mast in Ulverston.

Dubbing it a "David and Goliath" battle a united community has spoken out frequently about what they claimed was an intrusive development.

It was in May that plans were put forward for the base station and 17.5m antennae to be built. There was a backlash from the community claiming the tower was too large, too close to houses, and not in keeping with the neighbourhood.

In spite of the benefits of better mobile coverage councillors suggested alternative locations were available.

Town councillor Amanda Rigg, said: "It would be intrusive and imposing. I'm a telephone user and see the benefits of it, but where it is, it is not the right site. There are other greenfield sites that are available."

In late September the town council recommended the plans for refusal. On September 29 the South Lakeland District Council planning committee refused planning permission. In its refusal the committee said: "It is considered this harm is not outweighed by the public benefit of improved telecommunications."