April 26, 2021
The Government is proposing law changes to boost ongoing efforts to improve rural connectivity. The Government says that the reforms will reduce build time and costs for new infrastructure while protecting rural areas by minimising any visual impact.
Under the proposals, mobile companies will be allowed to make new and existing masts up to five metres taller and two metres wider than current rules permit. This will increase the range of masts and allow operators to fit more equipment on them so they can be more easily shared. The plan is to incentivise mobile firms to focus on improving existing masts instead of building new ones, with fewer new masts needed for rural communities to get a better signal now and to take full advantage of future 5G-connected technology.
Stricter rules will apply in protected areas, including national parks, the Broads, conservation areas, areas of outstanding natural beauty and world heritage sites. The plans also include proposals to bring better mobile coverage for road users by allowing building-based masts to be placed nearer to highways.
Most new masts will still need to be approved by local authorities, which will have a say on where they are placed and their appearance. Robust conditions and limits will remain in place to make sure communities and stakeholders are properly consulted and the environment is protected.
A joint technical consultation between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has also been published with details of the changes. It seeks views on reforms to permitted development rights in England:
- existing mobile masts to be strengthened without prior approval, so that they can be upgraded for 5G and shared between mobile operators;
- new masts to be built up to five metres higher;
- greater freedoms for slimline “monopole” masts up to 15 metres in height, which are less visually intrusive than standard masts and used for 5G rollout, in unprotected areas;
- building-based masts to be placed nearer to highways to bring better mobile coverage to road networks, subject to prior approval, and in unprotected areas smaller building-based masts to be permitted without prior approval; and
- cabinets containing radio equipment to be deployed alongside masts without prior approval and to allow greater flexibility for installing cabinets in existing compounds to support new 5G networks.
DCMS will also lead on a new code of practice for mobile network operators. This will provide updated guidance on how operators and local authorities can work together to build communications infrastructure the country needs. It will also contain best practice for the siting of new infrastructure, particularly in protected areas, and ensuring stakeholders are properly consulted. The consultation will run for eight weeks and closes on 14 June 2021. To read the Government’s press release in full, click here.