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Consultation published on mobile phone mast permitted development

Words: Laura Edgar
Mobile phone mast / Brian Clifford, Shutterstock_1253669365

The government has proposed extending permitted development rights (PDR) in England for mobile phone masts so that they can be upgraded for 5G and to improve coverage in rural areas.

The rights are intended to protect rural areas by minimising the visual impact of masts and reducing build time and costs for new infrastructure.

Under the proposals, now out for consultation, mobile companies will be allowed to make new and existing masts up to five metres taller and two metres wider than current rules permit.

The government says 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 is also meant to “turbocharge” the delivery of the £1 billion Shared Rural Network being built to eliminate 4G mobile ‘not spots’ in the countryside, as well as speed the roll-out of next-generation 5G networks.

The proposals are aimed at incentivising mobile firms to focus on improving existing masts rather than building new ones.

Rules will be stricter in protected areas such as national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and World Heritage Sites.

Most new masts will still need to be approved by local authorities, and they will have a say on where they are located as well as their appearance.

Digital secretary Oliver Dowden said: “We want to level up the country and end the plague of patchy and poor mobile signals in rural communities.

“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.”

Mark Bridgeman, president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which represents 28,000 rural businesses across England and Wales, said: “We welcome this announcement as a positive step towards improving mobile coverage in rural areas.

“We know that better digital connectivity is a key enabler for broader economic success. The rural economy is 18 per cent less productive than the national average, with the countryside missing out on billions of pounds and hundreds of thousands of jobs as a result. Better mobile coverage will help to close the productivity gap, helping to create a more prosperous rural economy.”

The consultation, which is being led by Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), is seeking views on:

  • 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 per cent 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 roll-out, 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.

The consultation can be found on the UK Government website. It closes on 14 June.

Image credit | Brian Clifford, Shutterstock