Anti wi-fi group holds up Norfolk church Broadband bid

A scheme which could provide a high-speed broadband connection to struggling rural communities has been put on hold because of out-of-county objections from an anti wi-fi charity.

Wispire, which hopes to use historic buildings to transmit the signal to nearby houses, is a joint project run by the Norwich Diocese and city-based internet service provider Freeclix.

It would use church towers as high spots to install wireless broadband receivers and transmitters which would give businesses and homes close by access to a high speed internet connection.

Postwick, near Norwich, was to be the first to install the equipment. Many people living there are crying out for a faster connection and welcomed the initiative.

But while there have been no objections from people living locally, national charity ElectroSensitivity UK (ESUK) has written to the Norwich Diocese raising concerns about the risks the signal could have on health.

Its chairman, Michael Bevington, said he was one of a number of people sensitised by wi-fi and he believes there are between 10 and 20 people in the Norwich Diocese in contact with the charity who suffer from the symptoms which include sleep problems, headaches, tinnitus, dry skin, chest pains and even depression and stress.

Under church law a 'faculty' must be given to authorise changes or additions to consecrated buildings and burial grounds.

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Because of the objection the Norwich Diocese chancellor, Judge Paul Downes, will hold an inquiry into the scheme later next month.

The inquiry is expected be held at All Saints Church in Postwick.

Alan Wood, chairman of Postwick Parish Council, said the delay was 'very frustrating'.

'The broadband here is very slow and we were looking forward to the project because it would improve that. There have been no local objections here.'

He said that they did have a service at least – in some parts of the county people are unable to get broadband.

David Broom, from the Norwich Diocese, said: 'The chancellor and we clearly want to make sure there is a robust process in place and that these representations have been fully looked at and examined.

'We have taken advice from the HPA (Health Protection Agency), but the chancellor does want to make sure that the system is robust.'

'Postwick was our pilot for a number of reasons including the poor signal and broadband repection.'

Across the diocese more than 150 people had now signed up for the scheme.

He said that broadband was important for the economic development of the rural areas and to help young people.

'We have got churches, residents and businesses all crying out for the service and asking when we can come. We are champing at the bit.'

But, he said: 'It is important that these concerns are looked at and heard by the appropriate people.'

If a judgement is made in favour of allowing the project at Postwick it is expected to pave the way for other areas.

Ray Soudain, All Saints Postwick church warden, said that he had not been made aware of any objections from people in the village.

'People in Postwick are keen for it to go ahead because they want a better signal. It is very poor quality at the moment,' he said.

He said that the judge would call experts and look at evidence.

A European Assembly report published earlier this year, the environment, agriculture and local and regional affairs committee suggests banning mobile phones and WiFi signals in schools.

The report says research is still ongoing into any potentially harmful effects from low-frequency eletromagnetic fields but, since 'anxieties and fears remain in wide sectors of the population', a precautionary approach should be taken..

In a letter to the Norwich Diocese registrar, Mr Bevington said ESUK was a relatively small charity with very limited funds.

He said ESUK was in contact with around 500 to 800 people in the UK at present through a helpline and newsletters with many more who had access its website.

Mr Bevington said in a letter to the Church Times: 'I feel that the church should seek to welcome and protect the vulnerable and those disabled from sensitisation to wi-fi, not harm them or drive them away.'

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