MOBILE phone giants are going over the heads of the council in their attempt to build a new mast two yards from a primary school.

A joint application from Vodafone and O2 was submitted in March this year for the 11.8 metre mast at the gates of Oaklands Primary School in Loughton.

The district council rejected the bid citing its effect on the appearance of leafy Albion Hill, the fact that it would obstruct pedestrians, and worries about the potential impact on the health of the school’s 240 children.

Staff at the school who thought they had seen the last of the plan are angry that the companies have appealed against that decision to the Planning Inspectorate.

Principal, Matthew Haggar, said: “People just do not know what the health risks are. We have young children at the school who would be playing a metre or so from the site of this mast.

“I am surprised they have appealed the decision. They were refused on three grounds and they have no special reasons to put it near a school.”

Headteacher Cheryl MacNair said: “I am surprised they have tried to overturn the decision because the application was turned down in the first instance because of the site being so close to the children.”

Councillors have warned that mobile phone companies have a track record in persuading planning inspectors to overturn local authority decisions.

Cllr Ken Angold-Stevens, who sits on the planning committee that rejected the original application, said: “I am not altogether surprised that they have appealed the decision because the telephone companies hold quite a lot of sway with the inspectors, which is a great shame.”

Fellow committee member Caroline Pond said: “We were opposed to the development because it was an eyesore as well as a perceived health risk.

“This is still the case, which is why the Planning Inspectorate should turn the application down.”

A period of pubic consultation is due to finish on December 7 and a decision on the appeal is expected shortly afterwards.

A spokeswoman for Vodafone and O2 said: "We identified that we need to improve the 3G coverage to our customers in Loughton and proposed a shared base station on High Road.

"We were disappointed that the local planning authority refused the application and as with all refusals, made a thorough review of the reasons for refusal and the potential alternatives available.

"However it was decided that this was the best site to provide coverage for our customers and as such we decided to appeal the local planning authority decision."

No date has yet been set for a decision.

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