VILLAGE campaigners say they have stumped up enough cash to remove an offending phone mast - but have reached a stalemate in talks with the operator.

Residents in Sheriff Hutton, between York and Malton, have protested fiercely against a 15-metre Orange phone mast ever since it was put up in their village.

After a year of meetings with Ryedale District Council - which did not complain against the mast in time to stop it being put up - local campaigners have taken matters into their own hands.

Through remortgaging their homes and asking for loans, a group of local families have managed to get a total of £60,000 together.

This is the amount operator Orange says it will cost to remove the mast, which has not yet been switched on.

But campaigner John Botting said residents had now reached a "brick wall", after none of their attempts to contact Orange had met with any response.

He said: "As a village, we have been talking to various people. We're talking about various projects between us - remortgaging houses and getting loans - we reckon that there or thereabouts we can muster the £60,000.

"We're continuing to write to them, continuing to phone - they're hoping we're just going to go away.

"That's not going to happen. There must be an alternative site to the one where it's currently situated.

"It's driven us to the point of despair - any day these people could just turn up and turn this mast on.

"That's absolutely diabolical.

"We've been completely (divorced) from any negotiations about this phone mast."

He said villagers were concerned about possible health risks in relation to phone masts, which had neither been proved nor disproved.

Martin Grey, the government and community relations manager for Orange, said: "In seeking to provide next generation mobile broadband coverage to the surrounding area, Orange established a radio base station site at Daskett Hill, Sheriff Hutton, in October 2005.

"Direct action by a limited number of residents has to date prevented the completion of works to allow the site to operate.

"In seeking to respond to local concern and reserving our rights to proceed, representatives of Orange have previously met with both Ryedale District Council and representatives of the mast action group.

"Despite attempts to allay concerns, the group has reiterated its intention to initiate further direct action to prevent connection of power to the long established site.

"Having conducted a review of siting options, Orange maintains that the base station is located suitably when set against national planning guidance.

"As such, it remains our intention to take forward plans to connect power to the long-established site and provide network coverage to the local area." He said correspondence about this had been received, and would be responded to "in due course".