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Wester Ross communities call on UK Minister to rethink phone mast plans

By Ally Tibbitt

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A cellular tower for communication on a hill in a rural area.
A cellular tower for communication on a hill in a rural area.

SIX Wester Ross community councils, plus a host of national conservation and mountaineering groups, have united behind an open letter claiming plans for more than 30 new mobile phone masts will “ruin” the area.

Plans to build the new masts within the UNESCO biosphere reserve area of Wester Ross put at risk unspoilt views and threaten its “reputation as a heritage tourism destination,” say campaigners.

The masts are said to rely on diesel generators to keep operating and expensive helicopters for supplies. Locals warn new hill tracks that will be made to service the masts threaten rare plants and wildlife. The costs and environmental damage outweigh the benefits of improved connectivity in remote areas, they add.


Mobile phone operators are rushing to meet targets set by the Westminster government that require them to provide 4G coverage across 95 per cent of the entire UK landmass as part of the Shared Rural Network programme.

But locals say ministers should consider that this target is forcing operators to put masts into areas that are “complete wilderness” where they will provide little or no benefit to businesses or local residents.

They claim 4G is an obsolete technology, as some of the newest mobile phones can send messages through satellites when no mobile coverage is available.

MP Julia Lopez. Picture: Richard Townshend.
MP Julia Lopez. Picture: Richard Townshend.

The letter is addressed to Julia Lopez MP, UK Government Minister at the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology and copied to local politicians in the area. It has been signed by six community councils representing residents living from Lochcarron to Lochbroom.

It also has the backing of several national groups including the National Trust for Scotland, The John Muir Trust, Mountaineering Scotland and Ramblers Scotland.

Campaigners have already forced developers to withdraw proposals for a mast in the Coire Mhic Nobuil area of Torridon, where it would have been visible from several famous mountains, including Beinn Alligin, Beinn Dearg, Beinn Eighe and Liathach.

The planning application was canned after it received more than 100 comments – with only one classed by planners as supportive.

Despite the opposition, locals say they now fear that a revised planning application for a mast in the same area may still be submitted by mobile phone operators.

Lopez is yet to make a formal response to the letter. But a spokesperson for the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology said: "The UK government has a responsibility to ensure all parts of the country are able to benefit from the opportunities provided by digital connectivity.”

The programme of mast building is predicted to improve connectivity throughout the Highlands and Islands. Figures from the UK Government suggest it will see 4G coverage from all four operators rising to a minimum of 68 per cent in the region, up from 26 per cent and 4G coverage from at least one operator will increase from 73 per cent to 91 per cent if the current proposals get the go ahead.

The UK Government spokesperson added: “Local planning authorities are responsible for approving applications which form part of this programme. The mobile network operators continue to work closely with them and local communities to ensure new masts go through the proper planning process and are considerate of areas of natural beauty.”

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