Toomebridge phone mast’s floodplain location approved due to ‘exceptional circumstances’

A proposed 22.5 metre telecommunications column was approved by Antrim and Newtownabbey councillors at a meeting of the council’s planning committee on Tuesday evening.
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The column with six antennae and two radio dishes is to be located at Tidal Industrial Park, in Toomebridge.

A report to the committee said: “The officer’s view is that telecommunications masts are not normally located in floodplains. There is no operational reason for the mast to be in this floodplain. It could perform its function at another location with no adverse impact.”

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It also noted: “DfI Rivers have indicated that to deviate from protocol would set an unwelcome precedent and deviation from policy.

Tidal Industrial Estate. Pic: Google MapsTidal Industrial Estate. Pic: Google Maps
Tidal Industrial Estate. Pic: Google Maps

“In the circumstances, the recommendation remains to refuse planning permission as the development does not constitute an exception to the policy. The principle of the development has not been established on site as the proposal is located within a fluvial floodplain.”

However, it said the design and appearance of the development is “considered acceptable”. A planning officer told the meeting the proposed site is 400 metres from the River Bann.

Planning agent Les Ross told the committee that mobile coverage in Toome village is “extremely poor”. “The operator has been searching for a site for several years,” he added.

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Mr Ross went on to say the planned structure will “integrate in visual terms”, adding it will be “in the middle of an industrial estate” which is described as a “fantastic location” for this type of equipment.

Vast Area

“The floodplain around Toome extends to a vast area,” he commented. “There is no evidence that this site has ever flooded. This site is an ideal location in Toome.”

Barry Diamond, the council’s principal planning officer, said: “There is no operational reason for this mast to be placed in a floodplain. Maybe they have looked everywhere else, but operationally, a telecoms mast would work better on higher ground.”

Macedon Alliance Councillor Billy Webb MBE commented if it is approved, it will be of “major benefit to the local community”. He asked if it could be regarded as an exception as there is public need and it is the only site that the developer has for the installation.

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“It is a piece of infrastructure. There does not seem to be anywhere else it can be erected,” he stated.

Mr Diamond told the committee members could decide there are exceptional circumstances given the “poor signal in the area and the need for Toome to be connected like other parts of the borough”.

“The applicant has looked at several sites in the area and given the exceptional circumstances, the community will benefit and for the economy, it should be considered as an exception due to the exceptional circumstances.”

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Airport Sinn Fein Cllr Annemarie Logue asked if any mitigation could be put in place in relation to the flood risk. Mr Diamond replied: “There is no doubt that if the developer had a suitable site outside the floodplain, they would have picked it.”

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Cllr Webb proposed permission to approve be delegated to officers, seconded by Threemilewater DUP Cllr Sam Flanagan and agreed unanimously.

Mr Diamond confirmed permission will be granted due to lack of other available sites in the area if the flood risk assessment is found to be acceptable.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

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