Government announces PD right for new phone masts of up to 20 metres in protected areas

A new permitted development right allowing new mobile phone masts of up to 20 metres in protected areas will come into effect this summer, alongside a raft of other changes to planning rules related to telecommunications equipment, the government has announced.

Phone masts: changes will make construction easier
Phone masts: changes will make construction easier

Last year, the government published a call for evidence on proposals to extend permitted development rights to taller mobile masts in both protected and non-protected areas in England.

In a written ministerial statement on Friday, housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis said the call for evidence revealed that a majority of respondents "recognised that digital connectivity is an essential service that communities and business want and need" and there was "support for the government’s ambition to maximise coverage and for commercial investment."

The statement revealed:

  • Where a site is already used for telecommunications infrastructure, the government will extend permitted development rights "to allow taller ground based masts to be built."
  • The threshold for new ground based masts "will increase from 15 metres to 25 metres in non-protected areas and a new permitted development right allowing new masts of up to 20 metres will be introduced in protected areas."
  • A prior approval system will apply where a new mast is being built
  • Operators will "also be able to increase the height of existing masts to 20 metres in both non-protected and protected areas without prior approval; between 20 metres and 25 metres in non-protected areas with a prior approval; and have a new automatic right to upgrade the infrastructure on their masts in protected areas to align with existing rights in non-protected areas."
  • There will be a height restriction of 20 metres on highways and residential areas "to accommodate vehicle lines of sight and pedestrian access."
  • The government "will lift restrictions on the number of antennae allowed on structures above 30 metres, while removing the prior approval requirement for individual antenna greater than 6 metres in height in non-protected areas and for 2 small cell antenna on residential premises in both non-protected and protected areas as the visual impact is limited."
  • The government "will grant rights so small cell antenna on residential and commercial premises can face highways, and increase from 6 to 18 months the right for operators to be able to install emergency moveable transmission equipment".
  • Government will work with the industry to strengthen the sector-owned Code of Practice "to ensure best practice is always applied when it comes to the siting and design of mobile infrastructure".

Lewis said that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will be consulting for six weeks on changes to the Electronic Communications Code (Conditions and Restrictions) Regulations 2003.

The code regulations deal with the operational aspects of the way in which telecoms operators exercise their permitted development rights and include requirements to consult with planning authorities.

"These requirements will be revised to ensure that there is consistency in how operators consult planning authorities where there is no prior approval", the statement said.

Lewis added that the planning changes will come into effect from summer 2016.

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