March 7, 2022

Industry Welcomes New Planning Laws Proposed to Assist 4G and 5G Rollout

Planning, 5G, 4G, Mobile, #BuildingMobileBritain, DCMS, Mobile UK
  • The UK Government has proposed new planning laws in England to help mobile operators extend and enhance mobile coverage
  • The new laws will make the sharing of infrastructure between operators easier and boost signals on roads
  • Protection built into changes to preserve rural scenery

The industry has welcomed the Government’s proposed changes to planning laws which will further assist the rollout of the Shared Rural Network, which will limit partial not-spots and extend rural coverage, and further enhance the operator’s ability to deploy next-generation 5G networks.

The reforms promote the sharing of infrastructure by multiple operators by taking into account changes in mobile technologies and the passive infrastructure that host mobile equipment. In doing so, this will mean that mobile operators will be able to extend mobile coverage and capacity further and faster across the whole of the UK, which will also benefit the Government’s Levelling Up agenda and attempts to reduce digital exclusion.

The proposed changes will give operators more freedom to make new and existing phone masts up to five metres taller and two metres wider than current rules permit. This will boost the range of masts, create room for the extra equipment needed for faster networks, and make it easier for operators to share infrastructure.  

The plans also propose changes to allow operators to place building-based masts nearer to the highways, which will enhance coverage to road users. People and businesses will also benefit from the changes as 5G deployment will also be boosted by making it easier for operators to use buildings to host their equipment.

These changes also come with added protections to ensure that the visual impact of mobile infrastructure is minimised, particularly in protected areas such as national parks, conservation areas, world heritage sites and areas of outstanding natural beauty.  

Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez said:

“We’ve all felt the no bar blues when struggling to get a phone signal, so we’re changing the law to help network companies wipe out mobile ‘not spots’ and dial up the roll out of next-generation 5G.
“Phone users across the country will benefit from this - whether in a city, village or travelling along our roads - and tighter rules on the visual impact of new infrastructure will ensure our cherished countryside is protected.”

Commenting on the proposed changes to planning laws, Hamish MacLeod, Chief Executive of Mobile UK, said:

“Building the mobile networks that provide the connectivity on which we all rely is both complex and challenging. The industry welcomes the reforms to planning regulations proposed by the Government. They will enable operators to deploy mobile networks more efficiently to meet ambitious targets for rural and urban coverage, including next-generation 5G.”

In its response to an extensive consultation on the plans published today, the Government confirmed changes to existing permitted development rights including:

  • Existing mobile masts to be strengthened without prior approval, so they can be upgraded for 5G and shared between mobile operators. This would allow increases to the width of existing masts by up to either 50% or two metres (whichever is greatest), and in unprotected areas allow increases in height up to a maximum of 25 metres (previously 20 metres). Greater increases will also be permitted subject to approval by the local authority;
  • New masts to be built up to five metres higher - meaning a maximum of 30 metres in unprotected areas and 25 metres in protected areas, subject to approval by the planning authority;
  • Buildings to host smaller masts (up to six metres in height above building) in unprotected areas without prior approval to accelerate network upgrades and reduce need to build new masts;
  • Building-based masts to be set up nearer to public roads subject to prior approval to improve mobile coverage for road users;
  • Cabinets containing radio equipment to be deployed alongside masts without prior approval and to allow greater flexibility for installing cabinets in existing compounds - fenced-off sites containing masts and other communications equipment - to support new 5G networks;
  • Conditions to ensure telecoms equipment does not block pavements and access to properties.

The industry has also engaged with the Government and a wide range of stakeholders, including representatives from National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beuty to develop a new Code of Practice for Wireless Network Development in England which will be published alongside the Government’s announcment to provide operators and councils with guidance to ensure that appropriate engagement takes place with local communities.

Notes to editors

  • Planning permission requires a planning application to be submitted to the relevant local planning authority to consider. Permitted development rights grant planning permission, without the need for a planning application, for specific types of development. Some permitted development rights are subject to a requirement to seek the prior approval of the local planning authority for the location and appearance of infrastructure before carrying out development. Where prior approval is not required, the developer must notify the local planning authority of its intention to deploy.
  • The move will help deliver the Shared Rural Network, a joint initiative between the mobile operators and the UK Government being built to extend 4G mobile coverage in rural areas and enable communities to enjoy the revolutionary benefits of 5G technologies sooner, from driverless vehicles to specialised robots and drones driving productivity in agricultural industries.
  • In order to make these changes, the Government will make amendments to Part 16 of Schedule 2 to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (as amended) through secondary legislation, when parliamentary time allows.
  • Planning is a devolved policy area. As such, the reforms will apply in England only.

About Building Mobile Britain

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Building Mobile Britain is a campaign created by Mobile UK seeking to work with national and local government, as well as interested industry groups to overcome the challenges we face with expanding the existing mobile networks, while also developing innovative services for customers.

See here for further information - or #BuildingMobileBritain

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