The federal government's new rules for putting up cellphone towers is a partial victory for municipalities, says a city councillor who has been a vocal critic of the old policies.
“I'd go as far as calling it a minor victory,” said Ward 11 Coun. Terry Kett, who has long called for municipalities to have more control in determining where the towers go up.
Last week, Industry Minister James Moore unveiled three major changes to the existing policy. The changes require companies to:
-- consult communities on all tower installations, regardless of height. Previously, consultation was only required for towers higher than 15 metres;
-- build the tower within three years of consulting with communities. Otherwise, they will have go through the process again; and
-- ensure residents are well-informed of upcoming consultations. That means sending personalized letters with detailed information on the cell tower.
“So things have changed, and it's a big improvement,” Kett said. “It's definitely a plus for municipalities. Now, they have to take into account municipal protocols.”
When towers started going up decades ago, there were almost no rules restricting where they could go, Kett said, so many went up in the middle of residential neighbourhoods.
“I remember a fellow who put a tower in his backyard – and his backyard was festooned with wires,” he said. “His cell tower was maybe 80 feet high, and that's all you could see in that neighborhood. But that's how it was. All he had to do was get the federal government to OK it.”
Under the reforms announced this week, cellphone companies will have to accommodate local concerns and guidelines to ensure they'll get federal approval.
“Say, if our (rules) say there shall be no cell towers within 300 metres of a residential area, for example, then they would have to follow that, or they could be turned down,” Kett said. “It doesn't mean they will be, but they could be turned down. Industry Canada still has the final say on this.”
While it's been a longtime coming, Kett said there were signs last year that change was in the works. Bell Aliant applied to put a tower in a Minnow Lake neighbourhood. Residents turned out to show their opposition at an October meeting of the planning committee. When councillors voted to not support the plan, Bell Aliant withdrew its application.
So while cities still don't have a veto over towers and their location, their opinion carries much more weight.
“The battle is going to continue, but I guess it depends on how you look at it – is the glass half full or half empty?” Kett said.
“To me, it's half full, because I know from here on in, the federal government will not OK cell towers that go against local protocols.”
New rules for cell towers:
-- Under the existing policy, a company was only required to consult residents and the municipality if the antenna tower is taller than 15 metres.
-- Before building a new tower, companies must now look for alternatives, such as whether there is an existing tower in the same area that it can share.
-- All antenna towers, no matter how high, location or power, have to satisfy Industry Canada's technical requirements and comply with Health Canada's rules to ensure the safety of Canadians.