The UK Government has announced a change in regulations on mobile masts to accelerate the roll out of 4G and 5G networks.
It said the change will reduce the need for new phone masts and boost the signal on roads while including protections for rural scenery.
Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure Julia Lopez MP outlined the changes in a statement to Parliament, saying it will allow for increasing the width of existing ground based masts and limited increases in their height without the need for prior approval.
It will also be possible for mobile operators to deploy building bases masts closer to highways, subject to prior approval, and to deploy small equipment cabinets on land such as national parks and conservation areas.
The easing of controls will be balanced with conditions for operators to minimise the impact of new development as far as possible, and changes in the procedures for safeguarding aerodromes and defence assets.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has also published a new code of practice for wireless network development in England, aimed at minimising the impact of upgrades in mobile infrastructure and ensuring there is appropriate engagement with local communities.
“Improved mobile connectivity, especially 5G, will ultimately bring benefits to all communities and businesses throughout the country in support of our levelling up agenda,” Lopez said.
“The reforms will provide operators with the flexibility they require to upgrade existing sites in England for 5G delivery, enhance coverage and meet the growing demands for network capacity.
“They will also reduce the time, cost and uncertainty involved in upgrading mobile network infrastructure as well as encourage the use of existing infrastructure and promote site sharing to reduce the impacts of new deployment.”
The Government intends to enact the changes through secondary legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.
It said the move will help to deliver the £1 billion Shared Rural Network being built to eliminate ‘not spots’ of 4G coverage.
Local government reservations
The Local Government Association has expressed strong reservations over the move, saying it will undermine the role of councils and local communities in ensuring the roll out meets their needs.
Its housing and planning spokesperson, Cllr David Renard, said: “Weakening planning control and increasing permitted development rights takes away the ability of residents, businesses and councillors to contribute in a meaningful way to the deployment of new or upgraded masts, sites and infrastructure, and circumvents local plans.
“Instead of pushing for more permitted development, we would like to see the Government continue to work with local government and the mobile industry to help the streamlined deployment of infrastructure within the current planning system.
“We are also calling on Government to provide funding for councils to put in place a local digital champion, to act as a central contact point to help coordinate local delivery.”
Local Government Association response added on 8/3/22