April 20, 2021

Mobile industry welcomes timely plans to update planning laws to assist mobile deployment

planning, 5G, 4G, Shared Rural Network, mobile, Infrastructure

The government is proposing changes to planning laws to boost its on going efforts to improve connectivity, as we look to rebuild the economy post the pandemic.

The reforms are welcome and come at a time when the industry is investing heavily in new 5G networks and the Shared Rural Network to extend 4G mobile coverage to 95% of the UK’s landmass. The plans put forward will remove barriers in the planning system to assist mobile networks to deploy their networks by reducing build time and costs for new infrastructure while protecting rural areas by minimising visual impact. 

Under the proposals, mobile companies will be allowed to make new and existing masts up to five metres taller and two metres wider than current rules permit. This will increase the range of masts and allow operators to fit more equipment on them so they can be more easily shared. 

The move will assist the delivery of the £1 billion Shared Rural Network being built to reduce 4G mobile ‘not spots’ in the countryside and will speed up rollout of next-generation 5G networks. 

The plans will also better incentivise the improvement of existing masts over building new ones, with potentially fewer new masts needed for rural communities to get a better signal and to take full advantage of future technologies. This includes innovations in remote healthcare, self-driving vehicles and smart devices such as fridges, TVs and heating systems.

Stricter rules, as has always been the case, will apply in protected areas, including national parks, the Broads, conservation areas, areas of outstanding natural beauty and world heritage sites.

The plans also includeproposals to bring better mobile coverage for road users by allowingbuilding-based masts to be placed nearer to highways.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden MP said:

“We want to level up the country and end the plague of patchy and poor mobile signals in rural communities. 
“Today we are setting out plans to make it easier for mobile firms to transform connectivity in the countryside and propel villages and towns out of the digital dark ages - providing a welcome boost for millions of families, businesses and visitors.
“These practical changes strike a careful balance between removing unnecessary barriers holding back better coverage, while making sure we protect our precious landscape.”  

Most new masts will still need to be approved by local authorities, which will have a say on where they are placed and their appearance. Robust conditions and limits will remain in place to make sure communities and stakeholders are properly consulted and the environment is protected.

Hamish MacLeod, Director of Mobile UK, said:

“We welcome the proposals set out in this consultation which will provide better certainty and flexibility to technological changes required to build world-class mobile networks. We urge the Government that to assist mobile companies to meet its ambitious targets for deployment, it brings about legislative change as quickly as possible.”

A joint technical consultation between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has been published today with details of the changes. It follows an earlier consultation in 2019 on the principle of the reforms.

The consultation seeks views on reforms to permitted development rights in England:

  • Existing mobile masts to be strengthened without prior approval, so that 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. 
  • Greater freedoms for slimline 'monopole’ masts up to 15 metres in height, which are less visually intrusive than standard masts and used for 5G rollout, in unprotected areas. This could mean operators notifying local authorities of their intention to proceed without needing prior approval. This would align it with current rights that telecoms operators have for telegraph poles.
  • Building-based masts to be placed nearer to highways to bring better mobile coverage to road networks, subject to prior approval, and in unprotected areas smaller building-based masts to be permitted without prior approval. 
  • 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.

DCMS will also lead on a new code of practice for mobile network operators. This will provide updated guidance on how operators and local authorities can work together to build communications infrastructure the country needs. It will also contain best practice for the siting of new infrastructure, particularly in protected areas, and ensuring stakeholders are properly consulted.

The Government's consultation will run for eight weeks and closes on 14 June 2021.

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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