Telephone mast plans on hold in Local Hero village

It is the village where a distinctive red phone box serves as a major tourist attraction and a symbol of a simpler way of life.

Scene from Local Hero. Credit: Photo by Enigma/Goldcrest/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5879594f) Peter Riegert, Chris Rozycki

But plans to usher the quaint Aberdeenshire village of Pennan into the digital age are on hold after councillors decided to defer a contentious application to erect a mobile phone mast in the community.

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The harbour village, made famous by Bill Forsyth’s critically acclaimed 1983 film, Local Hero, has long been frequented by fans of the movie, with many taking the opportunity to make a call from the telephone box, itself a listed building.

Those who cherish Pennan’s rural setting say that a phone mast would impact on the character of a place where solitude is welcomed, and where people come to unwind and get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

But with the village receiving only limited mobile coverage, others argue that being unable to make a call risks leaving Pennan and its rural economy behind.

The plans for the mast, lodged by WHP Telecoms Ltd, would see the eight-metre tall structure sited west of the village’s community hall.

Among those who have objected to the scheme is New Aberdour, Tyrie and Pennan Community Council, citing its proximity to the village hall and its impact on the conservation area.

Officials at Aberdeenshire Council’s department of infrastructure services recommended the mast be approved, after finding it complied with the relevant local planning policies.

But at a meeting of the local authority’s Banff and Buchan area committee, councillors yesterday moved to defer the application until later this month in order to obtain further information.

Pennan resident Alistair Mackenzie, who objected to the mast plans, has urged the committee to reject them, claiming people in the village are willing to pay the price to order to preserve their way of life.

“There is no clear evidence of a majority desire from Pennan residents to have mobile network communication extended to the village,” he said.

“There is no evidence of any consultation to establish that such coverage is desired.

“Some individuals have no desire to have such connectivity in Pennan. It is indeed a fact that those individuals find one of the unique attractions of Pennan to be the absence of significant mobile signals in Pennan in that it allows them to get away from it.”

Another resident, Alex Campbell, also took issue with the supposed need for the mast in a village where households have high speed broadband.

He said: “People choose to live in Pennan for the sense of community, its rural, natural and peaceful – arguably slightly remote- environment. The Pennan community is not a disadvantaged community and,even though it faces some challenges, lack of telecommunications is not one of them.

“It is questionable if it improves telecommunications as most people living here have high speed broadband and Wifi.”

However, holidaymaker Fiona MacKinnon, who found herself unable to make or receive mobile calls during her visit to the village, said she was surprised to discover that a community on the British mainland still had no reliable mobile network in 2019.

She explained: “I have never been to this part of the world before, my father was from Aberdeen. Local Hero was a much-loved film.

“It’s been absolutely fine, but it’s a strange thing to have no phone signal, you just take it for granted nowadays. It’s quite odd.”

Asked about the prospect of the mobile mast being approved, Ms MacKinnon suggested it would benefit the community at large:

She added: “I’m sure the people who live here all year round would absolutely love it.

“I think it would probably be a benefit as long as you don’t mind the intrusion of the mast, but like anything else you get used to it.

“I’m sure it’s a good thing for the area and to have that kind of connection.”

The next area committee meeting is due to take place on 28 May.