Telecommunications operators will benefit from extended authorized development rights

The UK government has confirmed its intention to amend the law to extend and facilitate the use of existing permitted development rights which apply to electronic communications infrastructure, such as mobile phone masts and radio equipment cabinets, “when parliamentary time permits”.

Details of the forthcoming reforms were set out by the government in its response to comments received during a consultation it held last year.

The government has confirmed that while the legislative changes will make it easier for telecoms operators to boost their mobile networks without having to seek prior authorisation, operators will still need an agreement under the electronic communications code to establish new sites for their equipment. on private land.

Telecom operators will also face new conditions on their permitted development rights “to minimize the impact of any new development, in all areas (but in particular on [protected land]), as far as possible,” the government said.

The government has confirmed plans to minimize the visual impact of telecommunications equipment in certain areas, including that it will limit the extent to which taller and wider telecommunications equipment can be installed under these development rights permitted expanded on protected land without prior approval, such as conservation areas and areas of outstanding natural beauty. No changes are proposed to currently permitted development rights on lands on or within Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

A new code of practice for the development of wireless networks in England has also been developed to provide guidance to telecom operators on their network deployment. The government said the new code of practice “places more emphasis on the location and design of wireless infrastructure and the process of engaging with local authorities and communities” and that mobile operators ” committed to developing their networks and installing the wireless infrastructure in accordance with the guidelines set out” in the updated code.

Ian Morgan of Pinsent Masons, who specialize in the prevention and resolution of telecommunications property disputes, said: “This announcement is yet another clear signal from the government that carriers and infrastructure providers need to be able to upgrade and share existing telephone masts as well as investing in new ones at pace and scale. Removing unnecessary barriers to the deployment of today’s and tomorrow’s electronic communications device is essential if connectivity in Britain is to be supercharged and if we are to remain competitive on the global stage.

“These latest changes represent a welcome step, with strong safeguards remaining in place that seek to ensure that an appropriate balance is struck between the interests of landowners and site operators,” he said. “Special attention will need to be given to the assessment and potential need to mitigate the negative visual impact, including whether and to what extent records should be kept of the process adopted to assess the visual impact and relevance mitigation measures, if any, that may be necessary, in order to create an audit trail of the decision-making process and any results.

In its consultation response document, the government said: “We believe that our changes to the planning system will reduce the time, cost and uncertainty associated with upgrading mobile network infrastructure. Improved mobile connectivity, especially 5G, will ultimately bring benefits to all communities and businesses across the country and support our upgrade agenda.

“In turn, high-quality digital connectivity will support the development of new industries and increase the resilience of our digital infrastructure. They will also encourage maximum use of pylon sites and allow for greater infrastructure sharing. This includes addressing existing barriers that may make it easier for Code operators to deploy additional sites instead of upgrading existing sites. »

Hamish MacLeod, chief executive of Mobile UK, an organization which represents the UK’s four largest mobile network operators – EE, Three, Virgin Media O2 and Vodafone – said: “The industry welcomes reforms to planning proposed by the government. They will enable operators to deploy mobile networks more efficiently to meet ambitious rural and urban coverage goals, including next-generation 5G.

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