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Proposed Optus telecoms tower meets opposition from angry Bowen Mountain residents

Dec 21, 2021


The plan for a large new Optus telecoms tower sandwiched between two homes smack-bang in the middle of a residential street in Bowen Mountain has run into fierce opposition from a large group of residents who fear the health issues it may bring, as well as the negative effect on their house values if the tower gets the go-ahead.


The plan is for an existing old decommissioned Endeavour Energy tower – that one sits at 15 metres – to be replaced with a new Optus macro tower for mobile communications, which will soar at least 33.5 metres into the sky.


The plan is for the tower to be built at 18 Lieutenant Bowen Road, and it will have a significantly larger footprint compared with the current unused tower.


While mobile communications in many parts of Bowen Mountain are patchy at best, the residents who live at the end of Lieutenant Bowen Road are fighting the proposal, which is soon to be decided through the Hawkesbury Local Land Panel.


The new tower was first announced back in August and is now winding its way through the Development Application process, firstly going into Hawkesbury Council where it attracted 28 public submissions – none of them favourable – and because of that number it now goes before the HLLP.


That panel is a mix of unelected planning experts with a handful of community representatives – no councillors. Very few DAs go this route, but the Bowen Mountain area is zoned RU5 which is “residential housing in a rural setting” so Optus needs special permission to put the tower there.


Essentially Optus are seeking an exemption to the current zoning.


What the large multi-national communications giant has going for it is the precedent of there already being a tower there, and there is power to the site.


Residents have suggested the tower be moved into the Crown Land area at the end of the cul-de-sac, towards where the Observatory sits, but Optus dismissed that as an option, as they did two other sites.


When Todd Kuhn sits on his back veranda, the current tower is right there beside him. The new one will be even more imposing.


“I think it is going to lower the price of my house pretty quickly,” he told the Post.


“ I don’t know about the health, that’s a big one, and it’s going to be unsightly. There’s really nothing else up here like that around that is going to stick out like that.”


Neighbours Pauline Vizzard and Todd Kuhn have several concerns about the planned tower


Mr Kuhn’s neighbour on the other side of the tower, Pauline Vizzard, says she will get no peace and quiet once the air conditioners that come with the project are operating 24-7 and 365 days a year.


“If that DA is accepted there will be air conditioning units running 365 days a year, if you want to sit and read a book in your backyard you’ll have air conditioners running all day and all night,” she says.


Optus told us that any air conditioners they fit as part of the project would each be no noisier than a normal residential air conditioning unit. They will not say how many units will be fitted, or how often they will run.


Ms Vizzard also wonders how many other utilities will piggyback off the tower if it gets the go-ahead, and what effect that could have on radiation emissions.


Residents fear a larger tower will lead to more potentially dangerous emissions


“You just don’t know how many others will want to jump in and share that pole,” she says. “It can’t be measured.


“You’ve got people like the SES, you’ve got Endeavour, for example – who else will piggy-back on that without us even being notified? How will that increase emissions, the cumulative effect, with young children growing up, playing here, waiting for the school bus right beside the pole?”


Sarah Cassim who also lives in the street says there’s the lightning situation too. She is concerned a storm could cause real problems right in the middle of the residential area.


Husband Glen Cassim says, “we all bought houses up here because it’s a residential, semi-rural zoning, we didn’t expect to have a 35m tower emitting microwaves right next to our houses.


“If that tower is here, none of us will be able to sell our houses.”


Hawkesbury Council’s Director of City Planning, Linda Perrine, told the Post, “The applicant [Optus] has been advised to consider and review issues raised in the submissions received.”


And in a statement we received, an Optus spokesperson said, “we understand that some people have concerns about the safety of mobile networks and their proximity to the community.


“The industry relies on regulators like the ACMA and ARPANSA for establishing the telecommunications regulations and all mobile sites must comply with strict regulations and rules regarding the safety of mobile transmissions.”


What this means is, when they build a new tower they apply to ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority) for permission to use the mobile tower according to the relevant communications and spectrum regulations.


ARPANSA is the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, which sets national standards around safe radiation levels.


There should be an opportunity for residents to put their concerns to the HLLP. According to Hawkesbury Council, they “encourage residents and other local community members to participate in the HLPP process by addressing the Panel at its public meetings.”


Those meetings are normally held in the Council Chambers on the third Thursday of each month, except where there are no agenda items for that month.


There is no HLLP meeting in January and Council tell us they are waiting for Optus to come back to them with a reply to the concerns raised. Once they have that, it will be back on the agenda.


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