A PLANNING inspector has dismissed Vodafone's appeal to move the mobile phone mast at Potters Industrial Estate.
In his report he said it should never have been put there.
Vodafone appealed after Hart Council refused it permission to move the mast — which previously caused the suspension of two planning officers — just 7.2 metres.
The company admitted at the appeal that it wanted to move the mast to gain "official" planning permission for it after a council blunder previously meant it gained approval by default.
The inspector's decision means residents may still get the mast removed as Vodafone wants to end the adverse publicity it has received since gaining consent by default.
Vodafone contacted Hart before the appeal in a bid to move the mast to the Peter Driver Sports site in Bourley Road but the council refused on the grounds that people use the sports site and there is one property nearby.
The inspector said the main issue was whether moving the mast would cause more visual harm than leaving it in its present spot.
He added: "The proposed mast would appear as an alien and prominent feature within the street scene, its impact being emphasised during the winter months as most of the immediately adjacent trees are deciduous.
"The proposed mast would be visually harmful to both the character and appearance of the surrounding area and to the residential amenity.
"Comparing the current proposal to the 2000 scheme, the advantage to some neighbouring occupiers of re-siting is cancelled out by it being closer to others, and the harm to the street scene would, if anything, be increased. There is no visual advantage to this proposal."
Residents' spokesman Fergus O'Connor, of Coxmoor Close, Church Crookham, welcomed the decision and believes the only way to successfully move the mast is if Vodafone, Hart and the residents work together.
He said: "We are absolutely delighted by the report.
"It is a good result for all the residents that worked throughout this by sending letters to the council and attending meetings. A lot of praise must go to the residents.
"The result is the product of the neighbours' determination. Everyone locally has been fed up with the mast since it went up. It should not be there and people are getting increasingly annoyed that it is still there."
He added: "The most important part of the report says the mast would be visually harmful. The inspector says that no matter where the mast is put, it should not be there.
"From this it is clear that the mast should never have been put here in the first place.
"It brings to light the fact that on three occasions councillors rejected applications for this mast, but every time the officers recommended approval."
He continued: "We remain very positive that we will get a solution because Vodafone want to move it.
"The mast has defective planning permission and that makes Vodafone very uncomfortable. It should also make Hart officials uncomfortable.
"Now we all need to work together. It is an achievement to get Vodafone on our side. Now we need Hart officers on our side."