Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Local Government Assocation


  1.  The LGA consulted member authorities for their views, and the attached response is based on the comments received.


  2.  The overwhelming response from local authorities was that the current system is in need of reform. The existing situation, which operates to the advantage of telecommunications code systems operators, is biased towards the industry's interests, and fails to take account of the local authorities' efforts and obligations to protect and enhance the environment, protect public health, and deal with public concerns over these issues.

  3.  Member authorities almost unanimously stated that the current system of permitted development rights coupled with the prior approval procedure is not working adequately. It was described as complex, costly in time and money, inequitable and not giving sufficient time for proper consultation. There is no mechanism by which conditions can be attached to an approval, and if amendments to the proposal are required there is not sufficient time to allow for consultation/negotiation on these. The public feel that mobile phone operators are getting "an easy ride", as they may install large, potentially intrusive equipment without the need for a planning application, whereas other developers and members of the public would have to submit an application should they wish to construct something of a similar size.

  4.  This has led to a growing lack of confidence in the planning system. Implementing these recommendations would go some way to redressing this lack of confidence, and make it easier for local planning authorities to reassure the public when concerns are raised.

  5.  On this basis, the LGA recommends that permitted development rights are removed, and that all mast installations are subject to a planning application. This would eliminate the problems experienced in the prior approval procedure, bring telecommunications operators in line with other forms of development, and increase public confidence in the system.


  6.  We have some fundamental concerns over the draft planning policy guidance contained in the consultation document, particularly relating to the management of health issues in relation to telecommunications development.

(a)   Should health issues fall under the remit of the planning system at all?

  We feel that health issues should not form part of the responsibilities of planning authorities.

  The current draft of the guidance is ambiguous on this point, and for that reason a great deal of the burden of managing the system will by default fall on the LPA in the absence of any other clear direction. Planning authorities are advised that as long as the operator submits a statement confirming that the proposed development complies with the ICNIRP guidelines, they should not consider health matters further, yet it also states that health can be a material consideration when determining a planning application. If that is the case, then planning authorities ought to be able to refuse permission on health grounds, and yet are informed by the guidance that they may not do so, nor introduce a moratorium on telecommunications development.

  This confusing situation will do nothing to allay the fears of the public, nor improve confidence in the planning system. We believe that health issues should form part of the operators' contractual obligations, and should therefore be incorporated into the licences they are granted by the DTI. Emission levels need to be monitored by an independent scrutiny body if the public is to have any faith in it—merely asking the operator to confirm compliance is just asking them to "trust the operator" without any independent monitoring.

  In addition, the associated costs and resource implications of managing this system will also fall on LPAs, which are ill-equipped to deal with health matters. An unrealistic expectation will be raised which the LPA will not, and should not be expected to fulfil.

  If health issues are in fact to remain within the planning system, we recommend that one of the following elements is incorporated into the guidance:

    (a)  that health authorities/health boards are made statutory consultees; or

    (b)  that operators are required to apply for and get a certificate from the NRPB in advance of making their planning application, proving that their proposal does in fact meet the ICNIRP guidelines (a similar procedure to that required when installing a mast near an airport, where the certifying body is the CAA).

(b)   Precautionary approach

  The LPA welcomed the Stewart Report's recommendation that the precautionary approach be adopted, in the absence of conclusive evidence on health effects of telecommunications equipment. However, the Government does not seem to have implemented this recommendation wholeheartedly, and therefore the aim of the recommendation has been compromised. We would like to see:

    —  time limited planning permissions, to allow for review in the light of further research;

    —  genuine powers for planning authorities to take account of public concerns and refuse permissions, particularly in sensitive sites.

(c)   Pre-development discussions

  The LGA welcomes the strong encouragement the guidance gives to operators to participate in pre-application discussions with LPAs and other interested parties. We feel that this is a vital part of making telecommunications development work effectively and of minimising objections and concerns. However, we do feel that this part of the guidance could be strengthened further by making it a requirement for these pre-application discussions to take place. These would preferably be strategic discussions, covering an operator's needs in a local authority area, and would take place at an early stage in the process.

(d)   Sensitive sites

  We would like to see comprehensive definition of the term "sensitive sites" included in the guidance.

(e)   Human Rights Act

  We do not feel that the implications of the Human Rights Act have been adequately addressed in this draft guidance. We would like to see a declaration from DETR that the guidance will not create obvious circumstances where third parties will have justifiable causes of complaint under the Act, leaving the local authority vulnerable to litigation.

  7.  Detailed responses to the individual questions in the consultation paper are attached at annex 1.

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