As part of plans to support the deployment of 5G and extend mobile coverage to rural areas, the UK Government has launched a 10 week consultation on proposals to widen or create new permitted development rights for telecoms operators in England. The proposed changes have been welcomed by operators.
Since 2016, there have been two forms of permitted development rights for mobile masts in England: (1) permitted development with prior approval (essentially, a lighter touch planning application) and (2) permitted development requiring prior notification, with works falling outside these categories requiring full planning consent.
As part of the consultation, the government is seeking responses on proposals to amend existing and/or create new permitted development rights for telecoms operators including:
- to enable the installation of higher masts subject to prior approval – the current mobile mast height limit is 25 metres;
- to enable the deployment of radio housing equipment without prior approval;
- to allow for the widening of existing masts by more than one third (to enable sites to be upgraded for 5G and for mast sharing) without prior approval; and
- to enable the deployment of building-based masts nearer to highways subject to prior approval.
The proposals to increase the maximum heights and widths of masts (without the need for planning permission) are clearly designed not only to meet the specific technical needs of 5G deployment, but also to facilitate the greater sharing of infrastructure between mobile operators.
The consultation closes at 11.45pm on 4 November 2019. What is clear is that, if taken forward, the proposals must be implemented in a way which strikes a fair balance between the rights of telecoms operators, the rights of landowners/other interested parties and environmental protections.
The consultation comes as the government has also announced that it is making available up to £30 million of grant funding to help up to 10 rural 5G research and development projects as part of its Rural Connected Communities Initiative.