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Mobile Operators Call on UK to Speed-up Planning Changes

Friday, August 14th, 2020 (10:17 am) - Score 1,014
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The Mobile UK trade body, which represents Three UK, Vodafone, O2 and EE (BT), has called on the Government to accelerate their softening of mobile planning laws, which comes after a new survey found that 59% of business would be helped by “enhanced mobile coverage and data capacity” as part of their COVID-19 recovery.

The results stem from a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and their Coronavirus Business Impacts Tracker, which claims to be the UK’s largest independent business survey. In the latest tranche of data collection (20th – 24th July 2020) some 517 businesses responded and 97% of those were SMEs (76% in the service sector and 24% as manufacturers).

Overall, some 67% of respondents reported increased activities that utilise mobile networks, while 79% said they expect to maintain or increase their lockdown levels of mobile network usage over the next 12 months.

Gareth Elliott, Mobile UK Head of Policy and Communications, said:

“The BCC’s COVID-19 tracker has clearly shown that changes to business practices, the so called new normal, are not simply a flash in the pan and increased mobile network usage is set to continue. It is therefore all the more important that changes that will break down barriers to building the necessary 4G and 5G infrastructure are brought forward.

In particular planning proposals must be translated into legislative change this year, so that the economic recovery from COVID can be supported by world-class digital infrastructure.”

The planning changes mentioned above relate to those that were confirmed in late July 2020 (here), which largely centre around softening the rules for Permitted Development (PD) rights and the ECC in England (i.e. making it easier to improve existing masts or to build taller masts and related infrastructure etc.).

The changes are primarily intended to support the roll-out of gigabit capable 5G mobile (mobile broadband) technology, as well as the new £1bn Shared Rural Network (SRN) project, which aims to help extend geographic 4G cover to 95% of the UK by the end of 2025.

Naturally Mobile UK would like the related legislative changes to be implemented this year, although local authorities have traditionally been wary of losing control over such things, and we’ve yet to see a related bill appear for debate. Suffice to say that the wheels of democracy, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis, may take awhile to finish turning.

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