Electronic Communications Infrastructure and Planning FAQ's
The following information is provided to aid with understanding and explain the process of how Electronic Communications Infrastructure (masts and supporting equipment) are managed through the planning process.
It has been structured as a series of FAQs to assist with ease of reference.
New and replacement masts are required as part of the new West Midlands roll out of 5G electronic communications technology. The West Midlands has been selected to become the innovative home to the UK’s first multi-city test bed for 5G services, which will pave the way for a more extensive and future roll out of 5G across the UK.
The importance of delivering this infrastructure has been highlighted by the recent pandemic and upturn in remote working and reliance on digital connectivity. By way of example, 5G technology is expected to support the growth in autonomous vehicles, enhanced CCTV, digital meeting capabilities – including for health and finance etc. and the growth of ‘smart’ towns and cities with links into street lighting and automated signage etc.
In order to provide the advance in technology though, new hardware, masts and equipment is required that is not as flexible in terms of height and design as previous generations.
Given the technical requirements of the antennas and masts required to provide 5G coverage, the heights of masts generally need to be higher and antennas cannot be designed as sensitively as they have been before. This obviously means there will be a greater impact upon street scenes than with older telecoms apparatus.
No, not always as in many cases there is a presumption in favour of granting permission for a mast to support improvements to communications technology.
In that context, relevant operators have permitted development rights under Part 16 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015, which establishes the principle of erecting new masts and supporting equipment.
Where permission is required, mobile phone masts generally fall into two categories, those which require full planning permission, and those which require 'prior approval'.
In relation to masts on the ground, the prior approval procedure applies to:
- The installation, alteration or replacement of a mast which would be no taller than the
- The installation, alteration or replacement of a mast up to and including 20m in height
above ground level (excluding antennae) on protected land or land on a highway;
- The installation, alteration or replacement of a mast up to and including 25m in height
above ground level (excluding antennae) on unprotected land;
- A public call box; or
- Radio equipment housing with a volume of 2.5 cubic metre.
In relation to masts on buildings the prior approval procedure applies to:
- The installation, alteration or replacement of a mast where the highest part of the
mast (including antennae) would exceed the height of the highest part of the building
by more than:
- 10 metres, in the case of a building which is 30 metres or more in height;
- 8 metres, in the case of a building which is more than 15 metres but less than
30 metres in height; or
- 6 metres in any other case;
Where a mast fits into one of the above categories, a mobile phone operator will submit a notification for 'prior approval'.
‘Protected land’ in so far as it relates to Prior Approval matters for electronic communications infrastructure are areas known as article 2(3) land, which cover:
- Conservation areas
- Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
- National Parks
- The Broads
- World Heritage Sites
The council has 56 days within which to determine the application. In doing so the Council cannot consider the principle of development as this is already accepted. It can only consider:
- the appropriateness of the location of the mast or supporting equipment; and
- the appearance of any mast or supporting equipment
All applications are published on our planning webpages and included in the weekly list. Ward Councillors and immediate neighbours are notified of such applications.
Other development, for example a mast greater than 20/25m in height (depending on location) will need a full planning application. In considering applications the council will take a balanced approach including:
- The benefit that mobile communications provide to the economy;
- Any technical constraints on location and need;
- The design and appearance of the infrastructure proposed;
- The investigation of alternative options including sharing sites and existing buildings;
- Health factors although they will not be the main consideration where the proposal
meets ICNIRP guidelines;
- Highway safety where proposals are on the highway; and
- The visual and environmental effect of any proposal on the surrounding area.
The Adopted Local Plan makes reference to the delivery of telecommunications infrastructure as part of Policy 14 (amenity). In effect the term Electronic Communications Infrastructure has now superseded this term as masts and supporting equipment now support more than just telecoms.
The draft Local Plan however draws these issues out and expands upon it within its own bespoke policy focused on digital infrastructure delivery. This is covered by draft policy P14A.
All decisions for electronic communications infrastructure need to have regard to the adopted development plan and determined in accordance with relevant policies unless otherwise justified by way of other material considerations.
The Borough’s Development Plan, also includes a number of Neighbourhood Plans. For example the KDBH Neighbourhood Plan includes policy guidance on electronic communications infrastructure at Policy U1 and the Meriden Neighbourhood Plan includes reference at Policy LE3. These are both material considerations when assessing proposals within the respective neighbourhood areas.
National policy is set out within the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The NPPF is very supportive of high-quality communications. Indeed, a whole chapter is dedicated to high quality communications, emphasising the importance that the Government attaches to digital connectivity.
For example, Paragraph 114 states that “advanced, high quality and reliable communications infrastructure is essential for economic growth and social well-being”; and also makes specific reference to 5G saying “Planning policies and decisions should support the expansion of electronic communications networks, including next generation mobile technology (such as 5G)”.
Paragraph 117 also requires evidence to be submitted to demonstrate how alternative locations have been assessed including opportunities to erect masts on buildings. The applicant also needs to self-certify regarding health standards.
All applications are assigned to a case officer who will fully review the case having regard to all information submitted and responses made to consultation. Within the 56 day period for Prior Approvals the Council must issue a decision to approve or reject the proposal. If this does not happen within 56 days the proposal is automatically approved.
Whilst there is no formal mechanism to extend this timeframe, it can be informally extended by way of an agreed Extension of Time with the applicant. This is often necessary to allow for a committee decision for example.
Where a full application is submitted this is considered in the same way as other standard planning applications for householder extensions etc. this is normally within an 8 week window. It is not subject to automatic approval after 56 days.
Decisions are made in accordance with the Councils scheme of delegation.
This means a scheme receiving 6 or more consultation responses which differ to the officer’s recommendation or has received a ward member request for the proposal to be ‘called in’ will likely be presented to planning committee.
Otherwise it can be determined under delegated authority by the Planning team.
Yes. Such concerns can be considered under the appropriateness of the site and the Local Highways authority are often consulted on proposals where they are situated on the public highway. Such reasons for refusal would however need to be justified and specific, having regard to matters of highway safety or disturbance of the free flow of pedestrians or vehicles.
For example where a mast and supporting equipment would consume so much of a public footpath that pedestrians could not navigate the route in a safe way.
Yes. The basis for promoting a site for a new mast is often the need to extend existing network coverage and therefore respond to an identified need or demand from service users.
As a result there is often a requirement for masts to be located within or adjacent to residential areas, town centres, shopping areas, employment areas and along transport corridors. Given that all new masts have to be of a certain height in order to provide the required levels of mobile coverage to the surrounding area, and that design options are somewhat limited, many new masts will by their very nature result in a degree of visual harm to their immediate surroundings by virtue of their height and appearance, especially if they are within a sensitive setting such as a residential area.
However, in such circumstances it does not automatically follow that a proposal will be rejected on this basis. Instead, it must be considered whether any material considerations exist that outweigh any identified harm. Material considerations usually take the form of:
- Is there a network requirement for the proposed installation in the area?
- Has it been demonstrated that there are no more suitable alternative locations for the proposed installation?
- Has it been demonstrated that there are no more suitable alterative design solutions available for the proposed installation and that it has been designed and sited to lessen visual impact as far as is reasonably practicable?
If the answers to each of the above is yes, given the general level of support for the provision of high quality communication networks at national level, there may be a basis for approving a proposed scheme even though a degree of harm has been identified by virtue of its siting and appearance. This will however vary depending upon the level of harm identified and be assessed on a case by case basis.
Not really, no. Planning law and policy requires that planning applications for electronic communications development should be accompanied by a statement or declaration that certifies that when operational, equipment will be compliant with the ICNIRP guidelines for limiting exposure to electromagnetic fields.
If this is provided a proposal cannot reasonably be refused on health grounds.
Yes. If the Council refuses planning permission or rejects a prior approval application the applicant can appeal the decision through the national Planning Inspectorate (PINs).