Mixed response to cell tower plan

Hout Bay residents Graham Gardner, Sean Mockford, Anna-Marie Smith, Antoinette Crane, Henrietta Cronje and Jackie Whales have raised concerns about a plan to put up a cell tower next to Victoria Mall.

Plans to put up a cell tower next to a mall on the corner of Victoria Road and Empire Avenue have drawn mixed reactions from residents.

The 20-metre tower will be on the roadside edge of Victoria Mall where many of the shops are presently empty. The mall is managed by Apollon Property, whose CEO Michael Bauer responded with a “no comment” to questions.

Sean Mockford, who lives in Empire Avenue, says the proposal is the subject of two WhatsApp groups: one for nearby residents who oppose it and another with 133 members of mixed opinion.

About 15 residents in the affected area met at a private home on Sunday February 19 to discuss the issue.

Henriette Cronje, owner of one of the properties close to the proposed tower and a director at Dunsters Attorneys, has offered to act pro bono on behalf of affected residents opposed to the tower who want to join the group objection being prepared by them.

She says the impact on property values, visibility of the tower and health concerns are residents’ top concerns.

Ms Cronje says a 20m-high mast does not fit the character of the area. She says there are no plans to use a generator, but that could change, causing noise and pollution.

Antoinette Crane says she does not want to live near radiation, and she is concerned about children at the nearby Ambleside School who will have to live with it for seven hours a day.

Jackie Whales, who works at the school in Milner Road, says they did not receive the application. She adds that as long as questions remain about health issues and cell towers, the school’s duty is to look after the safety of its children and staff and communicate any relevant information to the parent body.

Electronic engineer and resident Bertus Ehmke worked for several communication companies across Africa and the Middle East for 25 years. He lives across Main Road in Penzance where he says there is a definite need for another tower in lower Hout Bay. Although the coverage is not bad, the networks are overloaded, he says. This is even worse during load shedding when many households who use fibre are forced to use their mobile data.

“Not a week goes by without someone on social media complaining about cellphone performance – even more so with stage 4 and higher load shedding, which is expected to be with us for a long time. 5G will provide better capacity if and when ‘overlaid’ over the current towers, but listening to conspiracy theorists we will all grow horns and glow green if mobile operators activate 5G,” says Mr Ehmke.

“These same 5G Armageddon forecasters live with wi-fi in their homes – producing far higher electromagnetic fields to themselves because they are five or ten meters away from their routers; they allow their children to wear smartwatches and wireless headphones on their bodies, transmitting 24/7, but complain when a new tower is built many meters away from any domestic dwelling.”

He says that despite all of the sinister talk around 5G, it is mainly an enhancement in technology allowing for more megabits per second (Mbps) of data to be modulated on the limited frequency bands that operators obtain from the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), the country’s communications regulator.

In South Africa, he says, 5G operators use the same 700MHz, 800MHz, 2 600MHz and 3 500 MHz bands that have been safely used for many years, for older legacy mobile telecommunication technologies such as 2G, 3G, 4G and WiMax.

Mr Ehmke says this new tower will most likely accommodate more than one operator. Building additional smaller-footprint capacity sites is part of the natural evolution of a mobile network, in the same way as building more service stations and ATMs as population and income grow in a suburb. Not investing in this regard is equivalent to failure to invest in more electricity generation – it catches up with you in the end.

In a motivation letter, Corne Briedenhann, of Warren Petterson Planning, on behalf of Star Towers, owned by Apollon Property Management Funds, writes, “This application is by no means a careless act as health and environmental aspects are taken into consideration with associated proof that this development holds no threat for inhabitants and/or commuters.”

Ward councillor Roberto Quintas says he has received two complaints about the proposal, one in writing and one verbally.

“I understand that there is usually some contention around these proposed installations with some being against due to concerns around health and safety, and others who I am sure will be deeply appreciative of having increased network coverage in Hout Bay, which is often poor and even more so with ongoing load shedding.”

The American Cancer Society says that at this time there is no strong evidence that exposure to radiofrequency waves from cell towers causes any noticeable health effects. However, this does not mean it has been proven to be absolutely safe and most expert organisations agree more research is needed to clarify this, especially for any possible long-term effects.

Objections and comments should be sent to comments_objections.southern@capetown.gov.za before Wednesday March 15.

A proposal for a cell tower next to Victoria Mall has drawn mixed reactions from residents.