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Supporting the Deployment of 5G and Extending Mobile Coverage

Volume 692: debated on Tuesday 20 April 2021

Now, more than ever, people need access to dependable and consistent mobile coverage where they live, work and travel.

We have committed to extend mobile geographical coverage across the UK with uninterrupted mobile signal on all major roads, and to be a global leader in 5G. 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 can effectively support the delivery of the mobile infrastructure that we need. That is why in 2019 the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published an in-principle consultation on proposed reforms to the permitted development rights governing deployment of mobile network infrastructure. We concluded that the proposed reforms would have a positive impact on 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 July 2020 we announced that we would take forward the reforms, subject to a technical consultation on the detail of changes and including the appropriate environmental protections and other safeguards.

The Government have now published a technical consultation, changes-to-permitted-development-rights-for-electronic-communications-infrastructure-technical-consultation, seeking views on proposals to:

Enable the deployment of small radio equipment cabinets without the requirement for prior approval in article 2(3) land (which includes national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and conservation areas), and allow greater flexibility for installing equipment cabinets in compounds;

Allow for the strengthening of existing masts by permitting greater increases in the width and height of existing masts outside of article 2(3) land, and the width of existing masts in article 2(3) land, without prior approval; and further increases with prior approval;

Enable building-based masts to be deployed closer to the highway on unprotected land; and permit smaller masts and poles to be installed on buildings without prior approval outside of article 2(3) land; and,

Enable taller new ground-based masts to be deployed on all land subject to prior approval, with greater permitted heights outside of article 2(3) land; and permit the deployment of monopole masts up to a height of 15 metres without prior approval outside of article 2(3) land.

The proposed changes will not apply to land on or within sites of special scientific interest, to listed buildings and their curtilage, or sites that are or contain scheduled monuments.

The consultation will run for eight weeks, closing 14 June 2021.

These changes will support wider and enhanced coverage that will ensure all communities benefit, and will give greater certainty and speed over deployment of infra-structure, increasing investor confidence. They also aim to encourage the use of existing infrastructure and promote site sharing to reduce the impacts of new deployment.

We believe these proposals achieve an appropriate balance between supporting the Government’s ambitions for 5G and mobile coverage, and ensuring that the appropriate environmental protections and safeguards are in place, particularly for protected landscapes.

Alongside the technical consultation, we will work with industry representatives, Ofcom, local authorities and rural stakeholders to develop a new code of practice on mobile network development in England, to ensure the impact of new and upgraded mobile infrastructure is minimised and that appropriate engagement takes place with local communities.

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 infra-structure across the United Kingdom