Work has started on a controversial new mobile phone tower at Bentley.
Work has started on a controversial new mobile phone tower at Bentley. Marc Stapelberg

Fury over new mobile tower: 'It's not going to work'

UPDATE, 4pm: 

TELSTRA says it conducted "rigorous" community consultation and "engineering analysis" to identify a new mobile tower site at Bentley which has raised the ire of locals.

The site near the corner of Manifold and Kyogle Rd sits used Telstra land telephone exchange near the bottom of the Bentley valley.

In a statement, Telstra area general manager Mike Marom said the company's overriding objective was to "maximise new coverage in the region".

"Under the rules of the Mobile Black Spot Program, we were required to nominate regional and remote locations from the Federal Government's database of mobile black spots as reported by members of the public, local communities and councils and other interested parties, which included the location for the planned Koonorigan and Bentley mobile base stations," Mr Marom said.

He said Telstra believed the site would "allow us to best meet the coverage objectives of the Mobile Black Spot Program".

"All of Telstra's mobile base stations are designed to comply with the applicable safety standard set by Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and based on the safety guidelines recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO)."

But local Federal MP Kevin Hogan says he's surprised by the location of the tower.

"When I eyeballed it I was surprised that it was such a low level (compared) to the surrounding area," he said.
Mr Hogan said he visited the site yesterday and had since made enquiries to Telstra.

But Mr Hogan said the approval process over the tower locations lay with the NSW Planning Department, not the Federal Government, even though the Commonwealth part-funded them.

How the process works

Mr Hogan said the Federal Government's Mobile Black Spot Program conducted a bidding process with various telcos over different sites.

The bidding telcos offer to pay for a certain percentage of the tower and the government chooses the one with the best offer.

An agreement is then signed between the parties over each specific tower.

Mr Hogan said there were 20 towers either already built or in the pipeline in the Page electorate which were funded under the program, of a total of 141 identified black spots.

The black spot areas are identified in consultation with the community and the telcos.

But the telco still has 'room to move' within the particular area and makes its own decision on the ultimate location.

Mr Hogan couldn't say specifically what accountability measures Telstra had to meet under the program.

But he said it was in Telstra's commercial interest to give locals the best coverage possible.

 

ORIGINAL: A GROUP of Bentley residents have been blockading the site of a planned Telstra mobile phone tower which is just 150m from Manifold Public School near the bottom of a valley.

Preliminary construction works on the 40m monopole on Manifold Rd began yesterday, angering a group of at least 25 locals who say the site is poor and they have not been fairly consulted.

Police were called to the site yesterday afternoon and this morning to intervene and the group of locals were warned their cars could be towed and they could face a jail sentence if they continued to block access.

A NSW Police Media spokeswoman said vehicles parked on the construction site were moved and initial works commenced.

No arrests made, with the protesters leaving the area shortly after traffic controllers arrived at 8.15am.

They have since removed their vehicles but are maintaining a vigil on a neighbour's driveway 20m away.

Protesters at the site of a new mobile phone tower at Bentley.
Protesters at the site of a new mobile phone tower at Bentley. Marc Stapelberg

Work has paused on the site this morning as there was no traffic controllers on Manifold Rd, which has a 100kmh speed limit.

Lisa Joensuu and Ray Payne, whose home is just 100m from the planned tower, said they weren't against the tower, "we just want them to use common sense".

The tower is partly funded under the Federal Government's Black Spot program.

"They're using our taxpayer money to put in a gully," Ms Joensuu said.

"It's not going to work... we want it to go where it can fulfill its full potential."

Ms Joensuu said at least four landowners with land on hills or ridgelines, including themselves, had volunteered to have the tower there.

Telstra engineers assessed the Joensuu's land four months ago for a potential site but they never received any follow up information. Then they received a letter in late September notifying them of the current site.

Ms Joensuu said the school was only notifed during the school holidays and the closing date for submissions was the Friday before school went back for Term 4, although that was extended by a week.

She said the Manifold Public School P&C was "outraged".

Just like another controversial planned tower on Nimbin Rd at Koonorigan, the tower will sit on Telstra land where there is an existing telephone exchange, rather than privately lease land.

The residents speculate that it is just a way of Telstra cutting costs, rather than fulfilling the intent of the Black Spot program.

Lindsay and Leanne Charnock, whose driveway is right next to the site and whose house is less than 200m away, say there was barely any community consultation over the tower.

"There was no community meeting," Mr Charnock said.

"There was obviously no planning at all."

He said the map that came with the Telstra's letter appeared to position the school 1.5km away from the site, even though it is within 200m.

The Charnocks opted to refuse Telstra's contractor's request to use their land to unload machinery.

"We're just going to stay here and blockade it," daughter Trudy Charnock said.

"They've got a long way to go."



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