CAMPAIGNERS living in the shadow of a communications tower have lost their fight to stop it being expanded.

A government planning inspector has given Hutchison 3G permission to site three antennae, a transmission dish and an equipment cabin at the disused water tower in Bracknell Lane, Hartley Wintney.

People living near the tower opposed the scheme, citing fears of health risks from phone masts.

Hart Council threw out the application, saying it would be visually intrusive and result in a loss of privacy for residents due to workers frequently visiting the site to maintain the equipment.

But Hutchison 3G appealed and the scheme was thrashed out before government planning inspector Trevor Graham.

In his report, Mr Graham said the 20-metre tower is well screened from the road by trees and the compound contains several tall, mature trees.

"The tower already supports the antennae and equipment of three other operators and there are a number of equipment cabins within the compound," states the report.

"Despite the height of the tower, the trees in and around the compound substantially screen the structure from Bracknell Lane.

"While the upper parts of the tower are visible from Trefoil Close and the neighbouring area, its appearance is substantially softened by trees in the foreground and background.

"The equipment cabins and ancillary equipment will be hidden from view.

"Subject to satisfactory colouring, the proposed installation will have no material effect on the visual amenity of the area.

"It is acknowledged that public concern over health hazards can be a material consideration.

"However, it is the government's view that if a proposed mobile phone base station meets the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines for public exposure it should not be necessary for a local planning authority to consider further health aspects and concerns about them.

"The evidence in this case is that, individually and collectively with the other installations on the site, the proposal complies with the ICNIRP standards."

Mr Graham also rejected a claim by residents living close to the mobile base station that the proposed development would result in violation of the privacy and peaceful enjoyment of their homes, contrary to the provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998.

The decision follows one by government inspector David Harmston to give BT Cellnet permission to build a slimline street mobile mast at the junction of Norris Hill Road and Velmead Road in Fleet — despite fierce opposition from scores of residents.

He said the equipment would appear as a small group of "unremarkable items of street furniture" in an area where there are already street lights, a telegraph pole and various road signs.

Mr Harmston added that the mast would be screened by vegetation and would not harm the nearby Basingstoke Canal Conservation Area and Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Residents said hundreds of children would pass the mast going to and from nearby primary schools and it could harm their health.

But Mr Harmston said the nearest house is 80 metres away and the nearest school 350 metres away.

Hart Council has also just approved plans by Hutchison 3G to put up a 20-metre mast, complete with antenna, dishes and an equipment cabin, in countryside off Hitches Lane, Fleet.

Crookham Village Parish Council opposed the mast, which will be built next to an area of ancient woodland designated a Site of Interest for Nature Conservation.

But Hart's development control committee approved the plan, pointing out the mast would be screened by trees and would be 500 metres from the nearest house and 400 metres from Hart Leisure Centre.