Open Letter: Defective Processes Applied to Amateur Radio Antenna by Councils

To whom it may concern,

Canterbury, Kent. 8th December 2017

This year we have been tracking Armando Martins (M0PAM), a radio amateur, in his engagements with Canterbury City Council as he applies the planning process to the antennas he wishes to erect in the garden of his council accommodation.

Blanket Ban

We followed up on three incidents amounting to a blanket ban on all types of amateur radio antenna by the council housing department.  This ban was unlawful, and infringed his rights under the National Planning Policy Framework, Town and Country Planning Act and its associated General Permitted Development Order, et al. 

We think what happened was initially a gross misuse of the planning system instigated by his neighbours.  We say a professional organisation with the city councils resources would have prevented this misuse, rather than being drawn into it.  What made it possible was a complete lack of understanding of the acts and council policy, by council workers.

Raising the Issues

On the first occasion we studied what had happened and on the second and third occasions we took the time to work with the council to test and develop the necessary understanding.  (However its too early to tell whether this work has created a lasting and permanent change).

Moving on

Now Armando is in the process of applying for planning permission and finds his application is on the verge of being refused.  There are some discrepancies in the way his application has been handled.

Emotionally, this year has been a very worrying and stressful time, being micromanaged by council officials for several years has affected his life.  We say, when nobody knows how long they have on the planet who would want to waste their time struggling with their local council in a distorted process?  We have heard from people who have simply given up in frustration when it should be clear cut.

Because of the combined experience of Armando and others we think in some parts of the country the process is in disarray and therefore open to abuse.  It could be different.

Me Too

To gain this view we followed up various situations where other peoples neighbours have abused the planning process with the intention to cause difficulty.  We think this practice is undesirable and part of a crime, when harassment is intended.

Why Abuse?

It goes wrong when unwarranted complaints are accepted and supported by untrained housing officers, and then arbitrarily enforced, without first checking whether the complaint is abusive or relevant.  What happens is the abuser is gratified, when actually they should be made to account for their actions – wasting council time etc.

Abuse is facilitated when councils do not share the complainers details with the victim.  The fact is the council people who could prevent the abuse, work in different silos and don’t consult with each other.  The worst possible impact is on vulnerable people, or the victims of – persistent unwanted behaviour intended to cause harm – a.k.a Stalking.  Harm because complaints cause stress and are hard to deal with.

In more than one of our case studies, one neighbour in a community is inflicting unwanted and emotional abuse on another, using the council to achieve it,  and at the taxpayers expense.

We acknowledge that there is just as much chance that a council worker is making a bad decision, for example to refuse to give permission for a permitted development, based on sparse knowledge of the process (passing the buck to the planning department) etc.  This can also feel abusive.  We have cited contravention of the wishes of the SOS for Health and the SOS for Community and Planning as further reasons why this process needs to change.

Defective Planning Process

From what Armando says, the process in Canterbury is secretive and political.  The planning department is under pressure of work (high case load) and refuses to share data with him at this stage on those grounds.  This removes the opportunity to anticipate, amend and resubmit his plans.  Because of this and previous experience we think the process in use at CCC lacks openness and transparency, has little substance and is open to further abuse from arbitrary decision making.  As new cases come to light on a monthly basis we ask:

Isn’t it time this defective process was fixed?

Best Wishes,

Stuart Dixon MBCS, GCGI, MInstLM (G4IYK), R MacDonald (2E0ATZ), Armando Martins – (M0PAM),

The Armando Martins Campaign

at change.org

Our petitioners Said

Appendices:

1. Surveys and Data
2. What we Want (Airing a possible Solution)

Appendix 1 – Surveys and Data

Case Studies 1 and 2.  Please note our two previous case studies,  Armando Martins being number 1, and Number 2 which, is now subject to legal action by the police.  We visited and spoke to three radio amateurs both living in separate areas of the South of England who all agreed to give further examples we could use of what is thought to be a growing problem.

Case Study 3.  On a recent weekend, a 65 year old disabled person, living alone, was removing his antenna after receiving intimidating and threatening letters from Bexley Council.  He removed an antenna which was well within his rights to retain because “he didn’t want the hassle”.  He thinks the councils action was initiated by a neighbour who has demonstrated controlling behaviour towards him going back several decades.  Interestingly they agreed the antenna was lawful, but suggested he had to re-apply for planning permission as the polarisation had changed from vertical to horizontal.  (The top part of the installation, from upright to flat.) even though this reduced the height and made it less conspicuous.

As planning comes at a cost of £180 he has curtailed activity on the six meter amateur band.  The work of taking it down, although on this occasion by volunteers, could have cost him a few hundred pounds.  Note Hassle = Further intimidation.  He thinks he would not be in this position, nor would the council have incurred costs but for the inappropriate and anonymous action of a neighbour, deliberately designed to put him out and intimidate or humiliate him.

Case Study 4.  In Gravesend,  a 76 year old retired and disabled gentleman who lives with his wife and two dogs has received unwanted attention and criticism from a next door neighbour for several years.  Although unrelated, now an anonymous caller has left several trademark calling cards on his doorstep over the last few months, obviously related to his hobby.  This is unwanted behaviour designed to cause fear and as such not a joke.  He notes he is losing the support of his wife who doesn’t want the hassle, in common with the victim in Case Study 2.  He said he doesn’t understand how the council can take action against radio amateurs but ignore the gangs of youths roaming the streets at night setting off fireworks upsetting his dogs.

Case Study 5. This is an elderly blind and disabled person living in Sheltered Accommodation in Southampton who the council will not support to erect a simple wire antenna.  He writes “I think I’m beyond helping. I’m disabled and in supervised housing. Been licensed since 1972. RSGB recommend a “magmount on a tea tray”. RAIBC can’t help. I don’t want much but the council say Radio Amateurs interfere with tv hence ‘no’.

A similar case has developed recently in Portsmouth.

Comments from Petition Responders.  Several comments received from responders to the Armando Martins Campaign support these case studies.

Social media contains more data to support the view that there is a growing problem.  Some news reports have been taken into account.

One of the issues is costs to the local councils, police and magistrates who all have much better things to spend time and money on.  While local areas are full of rubbish, all find it difficult to see how council officials can waste time on this.

Appendix 2 What We Want (Airing a Possible Solution)

Basically what this campaign wants is for a fair and equitable process:

  • Councils to stop issuing inappropriate “enforcement” orders. 

As these can be life changing if misused, these should only come from experts and be supported by objective measurements set within the process.

We identify anti-social behaviour as one source of these inappropriate actions.  Radio users in the community are easy targets for controlling behaviour (aka Goal Blocking).  (This applies to many kinds of development, not just ham radio.)  Malicious attacks often come in the form of anonymous reports which use enforcement action as a means of delivery.  Council Workers at the lower level are not trained to respond appropriately, identify compliance with the various acts or recognise anti-social aspects.  They themselves are in danger of being drawn in by unfounded complaints and\or committing an act themselves.

  • Policy Change. 

We want all council officials to be armed with a policy that prevents stressful goal blocking by neighbours and putting the cost of resolution back to the initiator of complaints.  We think Initiators of complaints to the council must identify themselves at the outset, first and foremost to the owner of the alleged offending object. They must then take appropriate action before engaging the council, i.e. they must show evidence of mediation and proof of a breach before councils act.  This puts the burden of proof of any allegation, on the person making it.

(It’s not just about amateur radio – its common sense applicable to all sorts of common garden objects.  This measure will save councils money and focus council workers on more pressing matters.  This will help combat\prevent neighbour stalking).

  • Reinstatement of PPG8 at a local level.

PPG8 was the only succinct and humane document that could possibly prevent the misuse of council enforcement.  (It must be improved on and re-instated(RSGB).

The root cause of this is obscure documentation about planning requirements which identify TV and Domestic Antenna and put de-minimis and permitted Amateur Radio Antennae developments into the same class as you would expect to use for an outbuilding, conservatory or house extension.  Radio users are not property developers.  Council workers who are not experts can be easily misled into thinking there is no such thing in planning law as an amateur radio antenna.

  • RSGB to take a role

We think the RSGB should be more open about the current problems coming forward and the impact of localism.  We think there are opportunities for change and it must have an action plan.  It should at least stand up for radio amateurs.  We suggest it starts by educating them, via its regional network to assert their heritage and rights into local plans.

Also from the RSGB and our councils we want a fair and timely, modern process that operates 24/7 and includes tenancy matters in its processes. An accurate digital system would save all  time and effort and reduce the number of volunteers needed by RSGB.

We realise a FAQ may settle many issues and ours is set out already.  RSGB to review and adopt this as part of the  their process.

Stuart Dixon

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