PLANNERS in Northallerton have joined those calling for stiffer regulations governing the erection of mobile phone masts around Britain.

The Department of the Environment is consulting with councils on planning regulations which apply to telecommunication companies.

At the moment, Government guidelines suggest bids for masts should be given priority, speeding up the expansion of the mobile phone network - and, as a result, most applications sidestep the committee phase, with senior planning officers given discretion to decide whether or not they can be installed.

However, since the National Radiological Protection Board concluded risks from radiation should be taken into account, there's been pressure for a rethink.

And Hambleton District Council is among the administrations requesting all applications for masts should now be subject to the full planning process.

At present, planning permission is only required for masts taller than 15 metres.

"This means that consultation times vary and the public often do not get a chance to comment on something which is important to them," said planning chairman, Geoff Ellis.

"The current system is complex to operate and unfair. We believe there must be a consistent approach adopted which will not only be easily followed by the telecommunications companies but by the planners and the public.

"The impact of masts on the local community must be carefully considered, even if it means delays to the telecommunications industry."