Yesterday afternoon over 100 Scotts Head residents gathered at the Vista Way water tower to make their opposition known about a Development Application (DA) for a mobile phone tower at the site.
The water tower is the fourth locality proposed within the past two years and was one of two included by Optus in the DA that was to go before last night’s general council meeting; the other site was on private land at 1079 Scotts Head Rd.
The initial site, at Buz Brazel Oval, was abandoned in 2016 after locals voiced concerns over its proximity to the nearby school and other community infrastructure.
Council and representatives from Optus and Telstra were originally booked in yesterday to attend and discuss the merits of the Vista Way location in a site meeting.
But in a last minute kerfuffle, Council realised the DA would be untenable because the height of the proposed tower was five metres shorter than the 20 metre structure which would need to be built in that location for effective radio signal strength.
Locals were tentatively pleased at the news the site had been knocked back due to a technicality.
But many were left asking why it had been proposed in the first place, given how many houses are in the vicinity.
“It’s a beautiful space up here,” Vista Way resident Kelly Pacey said.
“All of us residents get together up here in Summer and have barbies. My husband runs up here every morning to check out the surf. It’s really significant for locals – it’s close to all of our hearts and we don’t want to see a big bloody tower up here.
“It seems as though it was the Council and not Optus who pushed for this site to be included in the DA; Optus hasn’t even done the relevant [geotechnical] surveys up here.
We want to know why Council made the recommendation to Optus to include Vista Way in its DA. We’re really hoping it’s not just a monetary thing.
Council’s general manager Michael Coulter said the lack of mobile phone reception in the area was drawing large numbers of complaints from locals who weren’t present at the site meeting.
He believes the absence of signal is a hazard in emergency situations and said his staff thought the water tower was the most appropriate site to fix the issue.
“[Manager of development and environment] Daniel Walsh thought – and still does – that you’d have less visual impact than Scotts Head Rd,” he said.
“Vista Way was originally a 15 metre tower as opposed to the 45 metre one needed at Scotts Head Rd.”
Scotts Head committee member and Vista Way resident Angie Evans was shocked that the site was considered without environmental impact studies done.
“My grandchildren live right here, within 50 metres, and I’m concerned about the radiation,” she said.
“There’s a lot of people in town that need mobile reception, but we need to be reasonable – nobody wants this in their backyard.”
WATCH the site meeting as it happened:
Optus representative Howard Game spoke to the crowd, saying the company had never seriously considered the Vista Way site as an option because it knew from the outset that getting popular support would be impossible, but included it in their DA on the advice of Council staff.
“The only effective way we can provide an effective mobile phone service in a location like Scotts Head … is by having base stations at or near the township,” he said.
“We recognise people are concerned about EME [electromagnetic energy]…which is why we try to find a solution that takes in community health concerns. But the science continues to say there are no issues with mobile phone base stations and adverse health effects.”
Angie Evans said she’s also concerned about the second proposed site on the DA, at Scotts Head Rd.
“There’s quite a lot of area down there [around Scotts Head Rd] where you could put it that’s not right next to anyone’s house,” she said.
But Michael Coulter said unless private landholders volunteered their properties for a mobile phone base tower, there would be no other proposed sites.
“I think they [Optus] spoke to another couple of property owners, but they can’t just compulsorily acquire people’s properties,” he said.
“That’s why council-owned land houses a lot of these towers around the shire.”
Last night at the council meeting, the DA for the Scotts Head Rd site went to a vote and it was passed five votes to four, with Crs Ballangarry, Jones, Jenvey and Smyth voting against.