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Deployment of 5G and Extending Mobile Coverage

Volume 678: debated on Wednesday 22 July 2020

Widespread, reliable mobile connectivity is essential for people and businesses. That is why the Government have agreed a £1 billion shared rural network deal with the UK’s mobile network operators to extend 4G mobile geographical coverage to 95% of the UK by 2025. The Government are also investing £200 million in a programme of 5G testbeds and trials to encourage investment in 5G so that communities and businesses can benefit from this new technology.

It is essential that the planning system continues to support the delivery of the mobile infrastructure that we need. On 27 August 2019, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published a joint consultation on in-principle proposed reforms to permitted development rights in England. The consultation ran for 10 weeks, closing on 4 November 2019.

Today I am pleased to inform Members that we have published the Government’s response to this consultation.

We are satisfied that the proposed reforms are necessary to support the Government’s ambitions for the deployment of 5G and extending mobile coverage, particularly in rural areas, where mobile coverage tends to lag behind more urban areas. In taking forward these proposals, we will ensure that the appropriate environmental protections and other safeguards are in place to mitigate the impact of new mobile infrastructure.

Therefore, subject to a technical consultation on the detail of the proposals, including the appropriate environmental protections and other safeguards, we are intending to take forward the proposals consulted on to:

Enable the deployment of radio equipment housing, such as equipment cabinets, on land without requiring prior approval, up to specified limits and excluding on sites of special scientific interest, to support 5G deployment;

Strengthen existing masts up to specified limits to enable sites to be upgraded for 5G and for mast sharing without prior approval;

Enable the deployment of building-based masts nearer to highways to support deployment of 5G and extend mobile coverage, subject to prior approval and specified limits; and,

Enable higher new masts to deliver better mobile coverage, and mast sharing, subject to prior approval and specified limits.

These changes will benefit communities and businesses and provide greater regulatory certainty to incentivise investment in mobile infrastructure.

The mobile industry has a vital role to play in delivering these improvements and in bringing forward the infrastructure required, and we expect them to commit to further measures and assurances to ensure that the impact of new mobile deployment is minimised.

Making these changes would require amendments to existing planning legislation. Prior to any future legislative changes, we will undertake the technical consultation.

We will now develop the technical consultation, working with mobile industry representatives, relevant regulators including Ofcom, representatives of local planning authorities and those representing protected areas, to ensure that the appropriate environmental protections and other safeguards are in place to mitigate the impact of new mobile infrastructure. This includes strengthening the code of best practice on mobile network development in England, which provides guidance to mobile network operators and local planning authorities.

As planning law is a devolved matter, any future legislative changes will apply to England only, but we will continue to work closely with the devolved Administrations to ensure that the planning regime continues to support the deployment of mobile infrastructure.