How ready are we for 5G in the UK?
April 2019, Gareth Elliott, Head of Policy and Communications, Mobile UK
The UK has ambitious plans to be a world leader in 5G, and mobile operators are standing up to this challenge. Already, they have published plans to launch 5G in the UK’s major cities starting in 2019. 5G will be revolutionary, providing ultra-low latency, super-fast connectivity, achieving speeds that up to now could only be achieved over a physical connection, and enabling in a mobile environment mission-critical and time-dependent applications.
“What does not appear to have been considered is how ready the UK is on the ground.”
However, what does not appear to have been adequately considered, is how ready the UK is on the ground for what many are claiming will be a fourth industrial revolution. It is critical, for instance, that at a local level strategic and Local Plans, which set out local planning policies and spatial land management for periods of up to 20 years or more, reflect the increasing use of mobile. At a national level, the regime of Permitted Development Rights (PDRs) needs to ensure that it is flexible enough to move with new technologies and forms of communication. And this is where the problem lies. Both the national regime for granting planning permission and the local strategic planning process are not designed to adequately prioritise mobile connectivity.
“It is vital that equivalence is given to mobile as a matter of urgency.”
PDRs need urgent reform. Currently, arcane rules will mean that far too many sites will potentially require full planning permission, as opposed to being undertaken under PD. This will slow down roll-out and put unnecessary strain on already stretched local authorities. Mobile networks are national networks but delivered at a local level. If 5G is a national priority, which the Government has clearly stated, then the planning system must be simplified so that there is less local variation, and mobile infrastructure elevated as nationally significant. A straightforward way to do this would be to step down mobile infrastructure fully into the permitted development rights regime.
By fully stepping down mobile infrastructure into permitted development all new applications would derive from a general planning permission granted by Parliament. Importantly, this does not remove the right of rejection as infrastructure that currently requires full planning permission would still require prior approval for both the site and external appearance. It would also not apply to designated areas such as national parks. Critically, though, what it does mean is that a decision must be made within 56 days for or against an application. This would provide certainty for both mobile operators and local authorities and importantly ensures that resources are more focussed and therefore used more efficiently which could have significant implications in terms of time and cost reductions.
A straightforward way to elevate mobile infrastructure as nationally significant would be to step it down fully into the permitted development rights regime.”
Meanwhile, at a local level, Local Plans, Local Industrial Strategies, Infrastructure Delivery Plans and/or Strategic Economic Plans must reference mobile connectivity, which they rarely do. This is important because it helps to align all the various interests within a local authority behind the strategic imperative of having good mobile connectivity. Moreover, the long term spatial and development plans, which envisage many new houses and businesses, must reflect the need to make provision for mobile.
Mobile operators are investing £2 billion annually in their networks to enhance capacity and signal. The UK has stated that it wants to be a world-leading digitally connected economy at the forefront of 5G. To achieve this, it is crucial that the planning and regulatory regime is also ready at a national and local level and flexible enough to ensure these new networks can be built quickly and efficiently.
Head of Policy and Communications
Tel: 07887 911 076