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Councils Object to Planning Changes for Boosting UK Mobile Cover

Friday, September 6th, 2019 (2:10 pm) - Score 3,968

The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) has voiced strong opposition to new plans by the UK government, which last month proposed to simplify the planning rules (Permitted Development Rights) for new mobile infrastructure (4G / 5G masts etc.) in order to improve rural network coverage across England.

At present Ofcom’s official data (January 2019) shows that the geographic 4G (mobile broadband) coverage of the United Kingdom, from all four primary operators combined (EE, Three UK, Vodafone and O2), is currently just 67%; rising to around 91%+ when only looking at EE’s reach. Needless to say that the regulator, government and industry have been trying to improve upon that.

Officially the UK Government’s target is to extend “geographical 4G mobile coverage to 95%” by 2022, although Ofcom’s existing plan – a new coverage obligation for two operators as part of next year’s auction of the 700MHz radio spectrum band (details) – will only help to extend outdoor data coverage (3G, 4G and 5G) to “at least” 90% of the UK’s entire land area within 4 years of the award.

Meanwhile the industry has developed an alternative agreement for a Shared Rural Network (here), which doesn’t include a binding coverage obligation but operators claim that it could still achieve 92% without the need for tough new obligations (potentially reaching 95% by the end of 2025).

On top of that the Government is also seeking to make it easier for operators to build taller masts and related mobile infrastructure via a new consultation (here).

Mobile Planning Consultation (Permitted Development Rights)

* changing the permitted height of new masts to deliver better mobile coverage, promote mast sharing and minimise the need to build more infrastructure;

* allowing existing ground-based masts to be strengthened without prior approval to enable sites to be upgraded for 5G and for mast sharing;

* deploying radio equipment cabinets on protected and unprotected land without prior approval, excluding sites of special scientific interest; and

* allowing building-based masts nearer to roads to support 5G and increase mobile coverage.

At present 25 metres is the legal limit in England (it’s even lower in some parts of the UK), which compares with 50m in much of the EU. The advantage of taller masts is that they’re perceived to be safer (the equipment is further away from people on the ground), can cover a much wider area and you don’t need as many smaller masts when you have one big one. The old rules also seem redundant in the age of huge wind turbines.

However it’s also a well-known fact that a lot of attempts by mobile operators to expand their rural coverage have been hampered by local opposition (i.e. objections to related planning applications), which is something that the proposal would seek to avoid by making permitted development rights more flexible.

Suffice to say that councils are pushing back and have called upon the government to “ensure that all heights of masts are subject to a full planning application and proper consultation with local (parish and town) councils,” which sounds a lot like the current approach to us.

Cllr Sue Baxter, Chairman of NALC, said:

“NALC is pleased that the government has announced this consultation. For too long residents in rural parished areas have suffered from the dual blight of inadequate access to mobile telephone signals and very poor rural broadband connections. We hope the government will strike the right balance and secure improved signal provision without having huge masts affecting the rural skyline.”

It’s worth noting that the Government’s proposals have won support from both the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and mobile network operators via Mobile UK. This is a crucial point since finding the right balance between land access, development and rents has frequently proven to be very problematic; much as the NALC is once again showing.

The NALC, which oddly pictured a huge electricity tower alongside its objection (very different to most thin mobile masts), has separately called for new build houses and businesses to be provided with in-built infrastructure to enable connection to fibre optic broadband.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
27 Responses
    1. Mark Jackson says:

      I’m down with disguising cell towers as redwood trees 🙂 .

    2. Mike says:

      It would keep the environazis happy.

  1. Adam says:

    I say leave the countryside behind, if they want to complain then they cant expect to have fast services end of.

    1. Dave says:

      There are plenty of us that want improved services though!

    2. AnotherTim says:

      There are relatively few people that object, especially in rural areas. The problem is that there is no interest from companies to provide coverage – they use any objections as an excuse to delay any improvements.

    3. Adam says:

      Ah, you’re that sort of person..

    4. AnotherTim says:

      What sort of person do you mean? Should I be offended by your comment?

    5. Adam says:

      Wasn’t talking to you Tim.

    6. Adam says:

      Was in reference to Adams comment.

    7. New_Londoner says:

      If people want services to be deployed, they could consider putting in supportive comments when planning applications are made. These will help counter objections from NIMBYs, can provide planning officers with the evidence that they need to overlook the objections.

    1. TheFacts says:

      What about 4G?

    2. Chris Sayers AKA (boring old git) I want 5G now says:

      Interesting picture, the majority look to be over 70, probably not tech savvy, not a single teenager or twentysomething in the protest group… just saying

    3. New_Londoner says:

      From the article linked to by Chris:

      Campaigners claimed to the Local Democracy Reporting Service there is “overwhelming” evidence 5G harms health outcomes.

      “…there is overwhelming evidence, and that most experts in electromagnetic frequencies are saying ‘the debate is over’. There is no question, this harms all cellular life-forms, from bacteria to humans.”

      What nonsense! There is so much exaggeration and pure rubbish here that even most of our politicians would blush! These are the same sorts of people responsible for the resurgence of diseases like measles due to their adherence to the anti-vax conspiracy theories.

      If you see this locally please call it out for the nonsense that it is.

    4. TomD says:

      Our Bowls Club (members overwhelmingly on the senior side) has written to me to offer to host a mobile mast on its site (although I’m sure I’m not the right person). The problem is that mobile operators are not interested. Many older people want coverage just as much as the younger generation.

  2. SimonM says:

    Is the Chair (and the whole governance team) of NALC elected by the public? Or do they just represent/speak for local councils?

    I personally think every village and town should have a large red and white mast, near-line-of-sight of ground antennas, shared by all network providers, maybe with rent paid to the local area (maybe the local councils that the NALC represents?). A complete mesh grid of communication right across the country, mobile, wifi, radio, tv, emergency network, everything.

  3. Marj says:

    What a shocker.. the crap signal goes on… well you can always go into the monopoly EE service.

    One day we’ll have half decent reception, one day…. although it’ll probably take some EU legislation to do it.

    1. New_Londoner says:

      Given there are four competing mobile networks, what definition of monopoly are you using?

  4. Michael V says:

    Councils make it very difficult for the four Operators to improve coverage. Councils should not get the option to object this new plan. The government needs to step up & allow taller masts to be built & existing infrastructure to be upgraded. Land owners should not be allowed to block access to equipment either. No wonder the UK can’t get the coverage it needs, everyone’s fudging about debating what to do & we don’t see anything being done.

    1. Mark says:

      A bit like Brexit then.. sums up this country really?
      I agree though Councils should not be allowed to block this, I mean when they object to all the houses being built everywhere the government planning department just overrules them, so surely they can do the same here?

    2. New_Londoner says:

      The government could easily amend the planning rules so that mobile companies have deemed consent for masts, meaning councils can’t object in most cases.

    3. Mark says:

      Yes but the landowners can stop a mast being built in the first place like in my area, they all have joined forces to prevent masts being built.

    4. New_Londoner says:

      True, although the revised wayleave arrangements do make it harder for obstructive landowners to hold communities to ransom.

  5. Optimist says:

    NALC represents parish and town councils only, which have little power. They scrutinise planning applications bur their decisions are advisory only, the actual decision is taken by higher level councils. Many places don’t have parish or town councils anyway. The political parties like them because they provide useful training grounds for candidates to district, unitary and county councils which are the ones that matter.

  6. Mark says:

    Another Tim. Very few people object? My town in the Cotswolds raised 700 objections,I’m afraid there are some areas where people have very strong feelings about masts and have even threatened landowners,its become ridiculous, or perhaps it’s just the weirdos in my area, they say they don’t care about technology.

  7. GucciGang says:

    Oh well, majority of the boomers will be dead in 10 years. Those masts are coming whether they like it or not

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