Phone giant Orange has erected a mobile phone mast in the heart of a housing area despite warnings it was "inappropriate".

The eight metre-high mast has been sited among houses in Westdene, Brighton, 500 metres from a school, sparking outrage from residents.

However, Orange said it went ahead with the mast because Brighton and Hove City Council failed to object in time.

Now families, worried by potential health risks, say either the mast must go, or they will.

The mast is on a triangle of land between Fairview Rise and Redhill Drive. Its arrival took residents by surprise. The first they knew of it was when workmen arrived with a crane.

Diana Redfearn, whose home overlooks the mast, said: "I just opened the curtains one morning and there it was. It's twice the height of a lamppost and it's hideous.

"But more than that, we are worried about the possible effects on our health.

"I have three children and I don't know if they are safe. We don't know if they could be affected by radiation. We want it moved. If it isn't we will be forced to sell our home."

Rules over mobile phone masts changed on August 22. Until then masts under 15 metres high did not require planning permission.

However telecoms operators were required to notify the planning authority and allow them a short period to comment on the proposed siting. It was then the phone company's responsibility to notify local people.

In the run up to the August deadline, phone companies flooded the city council with applications.

A spokesman for Brighton and Hove City Council said: "We worked very hard to process all of them on time. In this case our response was that we regarded the site as inappropriate for a phone mast.

"Unfortunately the phone company didn't receive our comments until a couple of days after the response deadline.

"We very much regret this, just as we very much regret the phone company's unwillingness to take the response we did give them into account."

Diana and her partner William Cliff, live with daughters Nikita, three, Natasha 18 and son Gregory 19.

Diana, a medical secretary, said: "The mast affects us in every way. We might not be able to sell the house and it will certainly affect prices."

She said other neighbours were furious they had not been consulted about the mast.

"Orange didn't tell us anything. They may well have put a sign on a lamp post but who is going to see that, especially on a island of grass in the middle of three roads where it's dangerous to stop? The very least they could have done is give us some kind of warning.

"It's one thing to choose to have a mobile phone but it's a completely different matter to have a phone mast erected outside your home - you have no choice at all."

Pensioners Don and Val Salmon have lived in Fairview Rise for 42 years.

Val said: "I feel desperately unhappy about it. Don had a stroke 12 years ago and spends all the sunny days we get sitting outside our house.

"This mast is bang opposite our front door, no more than 15 yards away. Don is 73 and can't walk very far so it's his big pleasure in life. I can't have him sitting there now. It's also ruined what was an unspoilt view."

Orange say the 'microcell' mast is designed to blend in with other 'street furniture'.

A spokeswoman said the company submitted a proposal to the city council on August 16. It also notified the highways authority and put a notice at the site.

She said: "Under UK planning regulations at the time, the council had 42 days to notify Orange of its decision. However, Orange failed to receive official notification of the local planning authority's decision within the 42-day time limit.

"We select sites that meet our technical needs, our customers' coverage requirements and that comply with all legal and planning regulations.

"Orange acknowledges public concern regarding the siting of transmitters. However, there is no conclusive evidence that makes a link between exposure to radio waves, transmitter masts and long-term public health risks."

The city council said the mast complied with guidelines issued by the National Radiological Protection Board. The NRPB say there are no proven adverse health hazards but more research should be undertaken.

The council has no powers to reject applications for mobile phone masts on health grounds.

The Orange spokeswoman referred anyone with any worries or questions about the mast to the Orange information line on 0800 783 5021.