Government confirms loosening of planning restrictions on phone masts to ease 5G delivery

Mobile phone operators will be able to build taller masts and attach more equipment to existing masts without the need for planning permission, after the government confirmed it would expand permitted development (PD) rights in relation to the technology.

Mobile phone masts - image: pxfuel
Mobile phone masts - image: pxfuel

The government last year carried out a consultation on the proposed measures, which finished last November.

According to the consultation response document, from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the consultation prompted nearly 1,900 responses from local authorities, businesses and industry bodies, charities and the general public.

The document says the government will now change English planning law to allow new masts to be built taller, though the maximum height has yet to be specified, to deliver better coverage and allow more mobile operators to place equipment on them. This would be subject to prior approval by the planning authority.

Currently, PD regulations permit the installation of new ground-based masts of up to 25 metres in height in unprotected areas and 20m on protected land, subject to the prior approval of the local planning authority.

The government also said it would allow mobile network providers to maximise the use of existing mast sites by putting more equipment on them, making it easier to share masts and increase mobile coverage areas.

Other promised changes include:

  • allowing existing phone masts to be strengthened without prior approval, so that they can be upgraded for 5G and shared between mobile operators;

  • allowing building-based masts to be placed nearer to highways to support better mobile coverage of the UK’s road networks, subject to prior approval;

  • allowing cabinets containing radio equipment to be deployed alongside masts, without prior approval, to support new 5G networks.

The changes require amendments to Part 16 of Schedule 2 to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 through secondary legislation.

Before amending the existing legislation, the document says that MHCLG and DCMS will carry out a technical consultation on the detail of the proposals, including environmental protections and other safeguards, and the specific limits to be put on the widths and heights of phone masts.

It says it also expects the mobile phone industry to "commit to further measures and assurances" to ensure that the impact of new mobile deployment is "minimised".

According to the document, some respondents to the consultation raised fears about the potential health impacts of 5G infrastructure, to which government advisory body Public Health England responded that “the overall exposure [to radio waves] is expected to remain low relative to guidelines and, as such, there should be no consequences for public health”.

Housing minister Christopher Pincher MP said: "Delivering much-needed new homes is at the heart of this government’s mission to support people in every part of the country, and this means delivering the modern infrastructure needed to go with them.

"We’re taking forward plans to extend mobile coverage, particularly for those in rural areas, so everyone can benefit from the latest technology and the jobs, opportunities and growth that comes with this."

Research by Planning recently revealed the appellants who had lodged the most appeals in relation to telecommunication applications. It found that Mobile Broadband Network Ltd, a joint venture between BT's subsidiary EE and fellow mobile carrier Three, had 51 appeals related to masts and other equipment and their impact on areas' character and appearance between 2017 and 2020, with a success rate of 35 per cent.

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