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Byron Shire
September 27, 2021

Telstra tower ‘too close to school’

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A map showing Telstra's proposed alternative 4G tower sites for Ocean Shores.
A map showing Telstra’s proposed alternative 4G tower sites for Ocean Shores.

Chris Dobney

A Telstra 4G mobile tower planned for Byron Shire Council-owned land at Ocean Shores would be too close to local schools and would blight the outlook of Flinders Way residents, councillors heard yesterday.

Byron Shire councillors voted unanimously to delay a decision on Telstra’s request to build the tower on council land until they had the opportunity to inspect the Ocean Shores site in the new year.

Spokespeople from Telstra and the engineering firm Aurecon told the meeting they had examined six sites in the area and five had problems connected with either being too low lying or too obstructed.

Vanessa Davies from Aurecon told public access the 30-metre monopole antenna would provide ‘enhanced 4G services using the old analogue TV spectrum’ from the council-owned site in Player Parade.

She added that bandwidth demand in the area was ‘doubling every year and the existing Mt Billinudgel site can’t service it any more’.

‘As a result South Golden Beach and Brunswick Heads are not covered with 4G,’ Ms Davies said, adding the companies had been ‘looking for two years for a base station site’.

She said there had been an onsite meeting with local residents in February this year, as a result of which the companies looked at five alternative sites but none were deemed suitable.

But she said they had undertaken to move the antenna 15 metres to one side of its ideal position to take it out of the direct line of sight of one of the residents’ homes.

Line of sight

But that resident, Ray Musgrave, told council during public access that in the initial plan the tower would have been ‘right in front of my living room, no joke’.

Mr Musgrave said residents of Flinders Way had spoken to Telstra staff, who seemed ‘pleasant and polite – they seemed concerned. But in the end they came back to move the tower just 15 metres’.

He said ‘according to NSW telecom guidelines, towers are to be “designed and sited to minimise visual impact, avoid obstruction of significant views, vistas or panoramas”.

‘Telstra’s not doing that,’ Mr Musgrave said, adding the site was ‘next door to Billinudgel Nature Reserve, existing properties, a new subdivision of 40 lots, and just 50 metres from the primary school.’

50 metres from school

Several councillors expressed concern at the potential level of electromagnetic emissions (EME) at the Ocean Shores Public School and a pre-school, both of which are situated within 50 metres of the proposed tower.

Cr Rose Wanchap began to ask questions of a member of the gallery, Anton, who had not previously spoken due to limited public access time. He responded ‘I understand the Australian EME standard is 100 times higher than China and Russia’.

There followed a terse exchange when the mayor ruled out further questions from Anton, after which Cr Wanchap asked Telstra spokesperson Bob Coyne, if he was ‘aware that under NSW education department guidelines telecommunication towers are not supposed to be closer than 500 metres from a school’.

Mr Coyne denied that radiation was a problem and said Telstra had taken Port Stephens and Coffs Harbour to the Land and Environment Court in November over exactly that matter and the commissioner had ruled out EME being an issue.

During debate on the issue Cr Sol Ibrahim asked council’s environment and planning director what power council had to refuse the tower. Mr Darney replied that as the proposed structure was on council-owned land they had a ‘strong case’.

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