PROPOSED ‘upgrades’ to a mobile telephone mast in a South Belfast street have revived opposition to the structure a decade after it first caused controversy. The mast at the junction of Annadale Drive and Annadale Embankment is used by phone networks Orange and T-Mobile as part of their wider South Belfast coverage.

However, when first announced back in 2002, outraged residents living in the shadow of the mast spoke out against it, citing health concerns over the 11-metre high transmitter.

Locals even took to the street for an open-air protest, with UUP MLA Michael McGimpsey joining residents, but construction ultimately went ahead.

Now, almost exactly 10 years later, a planning application for the mast has reopened old wounds, with locals insisting they still don’t want it in their area, let alone upgraded to become more powerful.

However, the firm applying to upgrade the mast, which represents the two mobile communications giants, has insisted there is no “scientific evidence” for the health fears, and said the work would boost 3G phone coverage for local smartphone users.

The South Belfast News spoke with locals in Annadale Drive, who appeared united in their opposition to any work on the unwelcome pole towering over their homes.

George Holland, who lives a stone’s throw from the mast said: “I’m very much against this mast in general, and certainly don’t want them changing it to make it more powerful, I’d rather they just removed it.

“When it first went up it caused a commotion, and I would hate to think we would have to do it again to make our opposition known.”

Neighbour Myrtle McElroy, whose late husband was involved in campaigning against the mast 10 years ago, said concerns over health relating to the transmitter were “very real”.

“I’ve lived here for 50 years, and was very much against the mast when it was announced,” she said.

The octogenarian added: “I’m a little too old to be out on the street protesting this time, but I’m fully against it and so is the majority of people in this neighbourhood.”

Young mother Karen Kelly, who just moved to the area several weeks ago, said she was “disappointed” to find her new home was yards from the mast.

“I understand people need reception coverage but it seems rather close to peoples’ houses,” she said.

“Surely there are better locations for it that would not cause concerns for those who have to live here.”

Meanwhile Michael McGimpsey told this paper that after 10 years he stood by his belief that the mast’s location remained “inappropriate”.

“Until it is proven beyond doubt that masts are non-harmful to people in the vicinity, I would oppose it,” he said.

A spokesman for Everything Everywhere, representing the interests of O2 and Orange, told the South Belfast News that the new work in Annadale was part of a wider £25 million investment across the North.

“We aim to deliver the planned work as effectively and sensitively as possible, but we can reassure residents that all the upgrade work to our mobile phone base stations still conform to the very strict national and international guidelines covering RF (radio frequency) emissions.

“Indeed the World Health Organisation concludes ‘‘there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects’.”