Telecoms: Extension of Permitted Development Rights

England and Wales

Following the recent consultation on proposed changes to the Electronic Communications Code the Government has now announced a further consultation on the extension of the permitted development rights (“PD rights”) available for the development of electronic communications infrastructure.

The changes are intended to eliminate mobile signal blindspots in rural areas and on roads and it is proposed that the reforms will also help to protect countryside and reduce the number of new rural masts need. However, some of the proposed changes will clearly also apply to masts on buildings. 

PD rights grant planning permission for certain specified types of development to be carried out without requiring a planning application to the local planning authority (“LPA”), and can simplify the development process. PD rights in respect of electronic communications infrastructure are contained in Part 16 of Schedule 2 to the General Permitted Development Order 2015 (the “GPDO”). In a number of cases, PD rights still require prior approval of the LPA in respect of certain matters.

The Government has focussed on extending PD rights as part of a recent drive to simplify the planning process, and this is the latest example. The proposed changes do not necessarily simplify the planning process; however, they do extend the PD rights that may apply. The Government is proposing that different rules apply to development on Article 2(3) land (which includes Conservation Areas, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, areas specified for the enhancement and protection of natural beauty and amenity of the countryside, the Broads, National Parks and World Heritage Sites) and sites of special scientific interest (“SSSI”).

Existing Ground-Based Masts

  1. less than a metre in width, the Government is considering permitting the alteration or replacement of the mast with increases in width of up to two-thirds without the need for prior approval. Greater increases in width would be permitted subject to prior approval; and

  2. more than a metre in width, the Government is consulting on two options:

    1. the alteration or replacement of the mast with increases in width of up to half or two metres (whichever is greater) without the need for prior approval in all areas; or

    2. the alteration or replacement of the mast with increases in width of up to one third or one metre (whichever is greater) on Article 2(3) land without the need for prior approval, and half or two metres (whichever is greater) elsewhere. In either case, greater increases in width would be subject to prior approval.

The alteration or replacement of existing ground-based masts which:

  1. increases the height up to 25 metres would be permitted subject to prior approval on Article 2(3) land or land on a highway;

  2. increase the height up to 25 metres would be permitted without the need for prior approval outside of Article 2(3) land and land on or within an SSSI. Greater increases in height up to 30 metres would be subject to prior approval;

New Ground-Based Masts

For new ground-based masts, the Government is considering permitting the installation of ground-based masts up to 25 metres on Article 2(3) land or land on a highway, and 30 metres on other land, subject to prior approval. This would not apply to land on or within an SSSI. In addition, the government is considering permitting the installation of monopoles up to 15 metres in height without the need for prior approval. This would not apply to Article 2(3) land or land on or within an SSSI.

Building-Based Masts

For building-based masts, the Government is considering permitting the installation, alteration or replacement of building-based masts up to 10 metres in height above the tallest part of the building within 20 metres of the highway, on buildings less than 15 metres in height, subject to prior approval. In addition, the Government is considering permitting the installation, alteration or replacement of building-based masts up to 6 metres in height above the tallest part of the building without the need for prior approval. In both cases, this would not extend to Article 2(3) land and land on or within an SSSI.

Where prior approval is required, the LPA ordinarily has a 56 day period to determine whether its approval is required. Where no prior approval is required, there is ordinarily a duty to notify the LPA of the proposed development. Under the GPDO, a number of existing PD rights are subject to prior approval in relation to siting and design of the infrastructure. Development that exceeds the identified limits will still require planning permission and operators will need to submit a planning application to the LPA in the ordinary manner.

The planning process is a key part of the development of electronic communications infrastructure. For operators, it is easy to fall foul of the complex planning rules for such infrastructure and the consultation is unlikely to resolve that. For landowners, the planning process represents a key opportunity to potentially object to proposed electronic communications infrastructure development on their land, including buildings and rural areas. The proposed changes are unlikely to alter this.

The consultation will close on 14 June 2021.