PHONE giant T-Mobile has won its appeal to install a taller mast outside Horwich Leisure Centre.

Bolton Council's planning and highways committee last year threw out the company's plan to replace the existing 15-metre mast near the centre entrance with a 20-metre version.

Residents had objected and councillors said the increased height would make the mast an even greater blot on the landscape.

T-Mobile, which argued that a taller mast was needed to improve network coverage, appealed and has now been granted permission for the new mast by Government planning inspector Bruce Barnett.

Mr Barnett said that the difference in height "would not be particularly noticeable", adding that T-Mobile had met guidelines on raidation.

However, campaigners are hopeful the council can still block the mast in its capacity as landowner.

A council spokesman said: "While planning permission has been granted on appeal, consent still has to be granted by Bolton Council and the Bolton Community Leisure Trust as landowners and occupiers.

"A report will be presented to the executive member for development."

Last year, Cllr Andy Morgan was backed by fellow councillors in a motion banning masts on council land but subsequent legal advice means the authority still looks at each case on its merits.

He said: "I will be urging executive member Cllr Ebrahim Adia to take account of last year's motion, which means we do not routinely put masts on our buildings.

"I'm very disappointed with the inspector's decision. It seems madness for some faceless bureaucrat at the planning inspectorate in Bristol to overturn a decision made by local councillors.

"There's no proof about whether masts are safe and some people may unwittingly use the leisure centre not knowing about the mast".

He said plenty of youngsters used the centre and the independent Stewart Report into masts urged caution about allowing masts near children.

Cllr Barbara Ronson, leader of the Liberal Democrat group and the party's spokesman for development, said she was also unhappy with the decision.

Cllr Ronson, who is a Horwich borough and town councillor, added: "I would be very disappointed if, having turned down the mast on planning grounds, the council now allowed it as landowners."

Horwich town councillor Lynn Rock said: "It's bad enough having the existing mast, I don't want to see it being made bigger.

"A leisure centre is the wrong place for masts."

The mast sparked a storm of protest when it appeared in 1999. The council receives £5,500 a year in rent for the structure which goes towards a sports and recreation but is not necessarily spent in Horwich.

It says it would seek to negotiate an increased rent if the replacement mast is approved.