A NEW drill tower and telecommunications equipment to meet the needs of the emergency services is to be installed at North Tawton Fire Station following approval from West Devon planners.

The application, which included the replacement of the 8m high drill tower with a new 12.5m tower and two small microwave dishes to be situated on top, met with opposition from North Tawton Town Council because of its height and visual impact in a predominantly residential area.

Councillors also raised concern over microwave dishes which they said were the subject of ongoing research and controversy as to their health implications. With the development next to the children's play area, the town council said the risk was unacceptable.

West Devon Borough Council's planning committee was told the equipment formed part of the planned introduction by British Telecommunications of a new digital radio communications network to meet the needs of the police and other public organisations.

It was regarded by the emergency services as an 'essential' innovation and was due to be introduced area by area throughout England, Wales and Scotland.

Planning officers said whilst the health concerns were noted, the applicants stated their developments were operated in accordance with the National Radiological Protection Board guidelines.