Insights Government publishes response to its technical consultation on changes to permitted development rights for electronic communications infrastructure

In its response to the consultation, the Government has confirmed that it will make amendments to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 to speed up the deployment of telecoms equipment, whilst ensuring that there are appropriate environmental protections and safeguards in place.

The changes to existing permitted development rights include:

  • existing mobile masts to be strengthened without prior approval, so they can be upgraded for 5G and shared between mobile operators; this would allow increases to the width of existing masts by up to either 50 per cent or two metres (whichever is greatest) and, in unprotected areas, allow increases in height up to a maximum of 25 metres (previously 20 metres); greater increases will also be permitted subject to approval by the local authority;
  • new masts to be built up to five metres higher, meaning a maximum of 30 metres in unprotected areas and 25 metres in protected areas, subject to approval by the planning authority;
  • buildings to host smaller masts (up to six metres in height above building) in unprotected areas without prior approval to accelerate network upgrades and reduce need to build new masts;
  • building-based masts to be set up nearer to public roads subject to prior approval to improve mobile coverage for road users;
  • cabinets containing radio equipment to be deployed alongside masts without prior approval and to allow greater flexibility for installing cabinets in existing compounds (fenced-off sites containing masts and other communications equipment) to support new 5G networks; and
  • conditions to ensure telecoms equipment does not block pavements and access to properties.

The Government says that these changes will help deliver its Shared Rural Network, which will eliminate 4G mobile “not spots” in the countryside and enable communities to enjoy the benefits of 5G technologies sooner, including specialised robots and drones, driving productivity in agricultural industries.

Mobile operators will still need to obtain agreement from the landowner before building any new infrastructure. All new ground-based masts will also need to be approved by local authorities which will continue to have a say on where they are placed and their appearance.

The Government says that robust conditions and limits will also remain in place to make sure communities and stakeholders are properly consulted and the environment is protected. The Government has also published a new Code of Practice for Wireless Network Development in England to provide operators and councils with guidance to ensure that the impact of mobile infrastructure is minimised, and that appropriate engagement takes place with local communities. To read the Government’s press release in full and for links to the consultation response and Code of Practice, click here.