CITY planners signalled their approval for a fourth mobile operator to use phone masts at Sarum Road reservoir, Winchester, today (December 4).

Winchester City Council's telecommunications sub-committee has given mobile giant Vodafone permission to install antennae and satellite dishes on an existing 20-metre mast, which the company will share with O2.

A decision was due on the application at the beginning of November, but it was deferred when agents for the telecom operator failed to attend a meeting.

Karen Barratt, city councillor for Winchester's St Paul ward, said she was disappointed with the outcome but glad that the operators now recognised that they must attend site meetings and answer questions.

Cllr Barratt, said: "I hope the telecom industry has got the message. This application has cost them time and money, simply because they rather took the process for granted."

The Southern Water reservoir has been the subject of much protest in the past as the surrounding area is mainly residential with Sarum Road Hospital and Kings' School Boarding House close by.

After Orange erected the first mast in 1999, Winchester City Council refused permission for a second but the applicant, BT Cellnet, (now O2) was given the go-ahead by a government planning inspector on appeal. Subsequently Hutchison 3G successfully applied for a 15-metre mast, which was replaced by a taller mast a year ago.