Concerned residents could be powerless to prevent the building of a controversial mobile phone mast in Bushey – despite more than 300 of them signing a petition to oppose it.

Special planning rules for mobile phone masts mean the objections of hundreds of residents, who are fighting plans for the 11.8-metre mast at the junction of Melbourne Road and Palmer Avenue, could count for nothing.

Hertsmere Borough Council has just 56 days to decide the so-called permitted development application and is allowed to object for just two reasons: siting and appearance.

This means it effectively has less power to deal with a mobile phone mast than it does for a new conservatory or home extension.

Any objections must then be upheld by the Planning Inspectorate if the application is to be successfully blocked.

The council, which says it is merely following government rules, says it is not planning to debate the matter at committee level, meaning any decision will be made in private by a council officer.

A spokesperson said their was no justification in squeezing the issue into a planned meeting later this month because it was already “minded to recommend that it is refused on the grounds that the proposed works fail to blend in satisfactorily with the surrounding urban landscape and add to existing street clutter.”

Residents, however, remain determined to have their voices heard.

Kathryn Nicolai, who gathered the petition, said: "I'm not quite sure where the democracy is. Where do the local residents get their voices heard when we can't even get the application on the agenda of a planning meeting?" Mobile operators O2 and Vodafone submitted a joint application to the council on March 29.

Since then, more than 40 official objections have been raised by residents, who claim the mast will blight their community.

Mrs Nicolai added: "The process just seems completely in favour of the telecommunications companies. The residents are the ones who will have to live with this, we pay the council tax to live here, but no-one wants to listen."

The council added that is has now begun a statutory 21 day consultation period with residents, during which their views will be taken into account.

A spokesman added: “There are still statutory requirements for us to carry out including a period of consultation so we are not in a position to determine the application yet.

"However, we do have some concerns over the proposal which were discussed with the applicants at the pre-application stage so at this point of the process we are minded to refuse it.”