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LGA - Councils warn against relaxed planning rules for mobile phone masts

Mobile phone masts in excess of 50ft in height could appear in rural communities across the country under new government proposals to allow them to be built without the need for planning permission, councils warn 

The Government is looking at relaxing planning rules to make it easier for mobile phone operators to install taller phone masts in a bid to plug the reception shortage in "not-spot" areas where there is no phone signal.

The Local Government Association, which represent more than 370 councils, is warning the move could open the door to mobile phone masts cropping up in beauty spots, historic locations and next to schools.

People would be left powerless to object and councils would be left unable to intervene.

It comes as the Government's three-year Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) ends this month having so far built just 28 masts – after previously considering 600 sites.

The scheme – which aimed to install phone masts in some of the most remote locations and communities in the UK – has only spent £11.55 million of its £150 million budget since 2012.

The Government is now planning to extend permitted development rights to taller mobile phone masts.

The LGA is instead urging it to work with councils and communities to identify and address coverage blackspots and should reallocate the underspend of the MIP to new projects related to tackling poor mobile connectivity.

It said the fact councils approve nine in every 10 planning applications proves the system is not a barrier to development and planning rules do not need to be relaxed in this way.

Council leaders say rural areas need to be able to access 21st century technology but that the installation of masts should be a decision for councils to make in consultation with local residents.

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Chairman of the LGA People and Places Board, said:

"More than a fifth of the UK's land mass have no mobile phone connection and councils are committed to boosting mobile phone coverage in rural and more remote communities to ensure they are not left behind.

"This must never come at the expense of the views of local people and to the detriment of local communities.

"It would not be right for large phone companies to be able to build phone masts wherever they like. It is alarming that a phone mast more than the height of three double decker buses could be put up outside the front of someone's home without them having any say in the matter.

"Relaxing planning rules in this way risks mobile network operators being able to build huge masts in places where local residents and councils will have no say.

"Building mobile phone masts is not a straightforward process. Planning controls exist to give people the power over developments that impact on their quality of life, and they should be respected.

"It is vital that councils are able to work with network providers to ensure local areas get the best possible coverage in a way that residents are happy with."

Notes to editors

  • Summary of the Mobile Infrastructure Project:

http://lga.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s8724/Item%203%20-%20Superfast%20Broadband%20Paper.pdf 

  • Government's mobile infrastructure planning review: 

www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/443864/150709_Mobile_Infrastructure_Planning_Review_final.pdf

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