PROTESTERS say they weren't at all surprised when a mobile phone network was granted permission to replace a 15m mast with one 5m taller at Teg Down reservoir, Winchester.

They had read that the decision had been approved on the city council's website several weeks ahead of a meeting on site yesterday (Wednesday) of its telecommunications sub-committee.

Chairman, Mike Read, said there had been several "hiccups" with the administrative process in connection with the application from mobile phone giants, Hutchison.

Case officer, Tom Patchell, said: "For some reason, the decision notice had been sent out when it hadn't been signed by a team leader."

Caroline St Leger Davey, who was there to protest, said she couldn't believe a report had even been written before the meeting.

"It gives the impression that it was a done deal," she said.

Hutchison had had an application for a 20m mast approved two years ago and the committee heard that the permission was valid for a further three years.

But the network submitted a fresh application to replace the existing mast in order to preserve the trees beside it.

Committee member, Roger Huxstep, said: "The crime was committed several years ago when the first mast was permitted."

"We have no legs to stand on in refusing this," said another councillor.

But it didn't stop the protesters putting up a spirited battle, which split the councillors two against two.

The deciding vote rested with the chairman, who approved the application.

He said: "I know it's not going to please some people, but it's already been shown that an application has been granted so I must go along with that."

Karen Barratt, a representative of Wessex Registry of Active Masts, said the application had "set a dangerous precedent".

She added: "This is a separate application. It has been two years since the previous one, not two weeks.

"Things don't stay the same. There's a different head of Sarum Road Hospital, next to the mast; there's a different head of Kings' school and there are new people living in the area. There should have been fresh consultation."

Mrs St Leger Davey said: "There's so much to complain about with this application. It should have been thrown out and they should be invited to put in another one."

Mr Patchell said the council had been sending details about the application to addresses on the GIS database that were more than two years old.

Some of the properties no longer existed and some had since become multiple-occupancy houses.

Liz Marsden, of Hutchison, said the 15m mast had "not been performing as well as predicted" because of the height of nearby trees.