Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Annex 1



  1.  The LGA welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this consultation, and to follow up the discussions already held between the Department and the LGA.

  2.  There has been an overwhelming response from our member authorities to this consultation, expressing an almost unanimous view on the proposals in the consultation. This response is based on comments received from local authorities.

Question 1: Do you think that greater public consultation could be achieved within the current prior approval procedures, or is it necessary to remove permitted development rights as recommended by the Stewart Group? If the former, how could this be achieved?

  Member authorities unanimously expressed the view that permitted development rights should be removed as recommended by the Stewart Group. The current prior approvals procedures do not allow sufficient time for proper public consultation, nor for negotiation and re-consultation following amendments, and there is no mechanism for applying conditions to any approval. This is not adequate for dealing with development as potentially intrusive as 15 metre tall telecommunications masts, particularly when this type of development causes a great deal of public concern.

  In addition, prior approval procedures are expensive to administer, requiring high priority and special procedures to meet the tight deadlines. They are also more costly in staff time than normal planning applications, and yet attract a much lower application fee. Removal of permitted development rights for this type of development would simplify the system, allow proper public consultation, permit proper negotiation and discussion between the local authority and the developer, and if necessary re-consultation on any amendments to the proposed development.

  Several member authorities expressed the view that, while ideally permitted development rights should be removed entirely, a compromise solution would be for telecommunications mast development to require a full planning application, but that the application could be deemed approved after eight weeks. This would correspond with the Best Value performance indicator for development control, would allow sufficient time for consultation, and would give the operator some certainty.

Question 2: Do you agree that mobile phone operators and other telecommunications code systems operators should be treated in the same way by planning procedures?

  The impact on the environment is caused by the nature of the development, not by the type of operator. The identity of the operator is irrelevant, and therefore the same procedures should apply to all. This would also have the benefit of removing any justification for accusations of giving mobile phone operators an easier time than other code systems operators, or for that matter, members of the public who are subject to full planning procedures.

Question 3: Do you think the construction and installation of any ground based telecommunications mast should be subject to an application for planning permission?

  Under the current arrangements, telecommunications masts under 15 metres in height do not require full planning permission. However, this situation has led to a loss of public confidence in the planning system, as other form of development below this height are subject to full planning procedures. There is a perception that telecommunications operators receive preferential treatment, and are permitted to construct and install structures which can have a significant impact on the environment without the constraints to which other developers are subject.

  Therefore, the LGA believes that the construction and installation of any ground based telecommunications mast should be subject to an application for planning permission.

Question 4: Do you think that the alteration or replacement of a ground based mast already installed should be granted except where the alteration or replacement would result in the mast being higher than the original mast? If so, where a mast would be higher than the original mast, should its alteration or replacement be permitted subject to prior approval, or should an application for planning permission be required?

  Where replacement of a ground based mast is on a like for like basis, we see no reason why it should not be permitted development. However, where there is alteration to the mast's height, or design, so that the visual impact is altered, then we feel that this should be the subject of a planning application. It is the impact on the environment which is the important element, and while we appreciate that additional requirements for full planning applications could cause delay to the operators, these delays could, at least in part, be cancelled out by the ability to hold greater and more thorough public consultation earlier in the process.

  We do not support the retention of the prior approval procedures, as they are too complex, expensive, and time consuming, and do not allow time for proper consultation and negotiation.

Question 5: Do you think that the construction or installation of any telecommunications mast on a building or other structure should be subject to an application for planning permission?

  The LGA feels that all installations of mobile phone equipment should be subject to the same procedures, whether ground based or situated on a building. Masts can have a significant impact on amenity wherever they are situated, and particularly given the public's concern over health issues, masts situated on buildings or other structures should be subject to public consultation and normal planning controls. The simplest way to achieve this is by making these development subject to an application for planning permission, thereby allowing sufficient time for consultation to take place.

Question 6: Do you think that the alteration or replacement of a mast on a building or other structure should be permitted except where the alteration or replacement would result in the mast being higher than the original mast? If so, where a mast would be higher than the original mast, should its alteration or replacement be permitted subject to prior approval, or should an application for planning permission be required?

  If the replacement of the mast is on a like for like basis, then it could be permitted. However, any alteration to the mast can have an impact on visual amenity, and should be subject to a planning application. This would be the case whether the mast was higher than the original mast, or whether its design was altered.

  In order to mitigate the effects this change could have on mast sharing, a compromise position could be for these alterations to be "deemed approved" after eight weeks, thereby giving the operator some certainty, and maintaining the consistency of the eight week time period. The LGA would not advocate the incorporation of the prior approval system in this case.

Question 7: Do you think that the construction, installation, alteration or replacement of radio equipment housing with a volume in excess of 2.5 m3, and of development ancillary to radio equipment housing, when carried out in conjunction with the construction, installation, alteration or replacement of a mast, should be subject to the same planning requirements as that mast?

  Where a new mast is being constructed or installed, the radio equipment housing associated with it will be an integral part of the development and as such should be dealt with as part of the same planning application. Where existing radio equipment housing is being replaced or altered, planning permission should only be required if the overall size of the housing will be greater than the previous installation.

Question 8: Do you think that any other changes would be necessary as a consequence to our planning regulations in respect of masts?

  The principal proposed change to the regulations (ie making masts subject to normal planning procedures) has the following beneficial effects:

    —  It will simplify the system, making it more comprehensible to the public and more equitable;

    —  It allows local planning authorities to negotiate and to apply conditions to any approvals;

    —  It allows proper public involvement through consultation and notification;

    —  Applications will be recorded in the normal planning register and will be revealed on searches;

    —  The section of the Act (S.54a) which gives primacy to the policies of the development plan will apply to planning applications for masts.

  If this straightforward approach is taken, no further changes should be required. However, if the Government chooses not to implement these recommendations, these issues will need to be addressed in an enhanced system.

Question 9: Do you think that the installation, alteration or replacement of a microcell which materially affects the external appearance of the building should be treated in the same way as an antenna in Part 24 of the GPDO?

  Where the installation of a microcell materially affects the appearance of a building, it should be subject to normal planning controls so that it is treated the same as other masts, antennae etc. Where there is no material effect, it could be exempt from planning controls. Questions of quality of implementation and design could be dealt with in, for example, codes of practice or design guides.

Question 10: Do you want to propose any other amendments to Part 24 of the GPDO?

  Public telephone boxes are also subject to the prior approvals system. There is a case for making them subject to normal planning controls in conservation areas, but permitted development elsewhere.



  The LGA has maintained some key policy positions on the development of mobile phone networks. Local Government is not anti-mobile phone.

  We would like the opportunity to discuss how individual local authorities can work with the industry to accommodate its needs in a strategic way and also satisfy the concerns of local residents to minimise the potential impacts on the environment of infrastructure development. This requires a partnership approach and the building of confidence of local people in our ability to deliver modern telecommunications in a way that is consistent with our objectives to ensure the well-being of ours, and the industry's, communities.

  We would like a strategic approach to be based on certain principles, of:

    —  Minimising the need for mobile phone masts and base stations.

    —  Minimising the intrusion of mobile phone infrastructure into the built environment.

    —  Where consistent with good design and landscape, sharing masts whenever possible, recognising that shared masts are bulkier and more intrusive.

  And, on the health issues,

    —  In the absence of definitive conclusions on the health impacts and line with the Stewart report, we would like to see the adoption of a precautionary approach to mobile phone mast/base station development in relation to schools and locations where there are high concentrations of people present.

  For our goals to be achieved, both local authorities and the industry need to do certain things:

  Local authorities need to:

    —  Engage with operators at an early stage to discuss their overall site requirements and display a positive approach to accommodating them

    —  Offer solutions and encourage better design practice to fit with the Government's objectives to develop a better quality urban and rural environment. Negotiation must be used to improve developments and it is as much our responsibility, as local planning authorities, as it is the industry's, to ensure this happens.

    —  Educate the public about mobile phone development and how it can be accommodated within our environment.

  The industry needs to:

    —  Engage with local authorities much more openly about its strategic development plans—how can local authorities set about accommodating this type of development positively if information is held back about how many developments will be needed? How can a precautionary approach be achieved?

    —  Adopt a positive approach to finding design solutions to the development of infrastructure. There appears to be, in some quarters of the industry and definite lack of enlightened self-interest in this regard. The old saying goes—"out of sight, out of mind". Much more innovative solutions are needed to hide unsightly developments, particularly in the countryside.

    —  Where feasible, and in the current climate of public concern, which is not likely to diminish, individual companies, though in deadly competition, must work together more closely to minimise the number of masts that are needed. Must we really provide a network four or five times over? Greater mast sharing and the use of complementary technology must be a key development.

  An offer—The LGA is willing to sit down with the Federation of the Electronics Industry to work out how we can address some of these issues, and address concerns held by the industry.

we can address some of these issues, and address concerns held by the industry.

Planning permission or not? Where are we now and where do we need to go?

  We have the Stewart Report. He reported in April 2000 and was inconclusive. His report did recommend further research and a precautionary approach to be adopted in the use of mobile phones, particularly among children. The LGA supported its recommendations.

  The Government has issued two consultation documents regarding mobile telecommunications development:

    —  Draft Revised Planning Policy Guidance Note 8 on Telecommunications proposes to make health a material consideration in the assessment of planning applications for mobile telecommunications masts, but this may turn out to be fairly limited to securing the declaration of applicants that they meet ICNIRP standards. The LGA welcomed the introduction of health issues into the guidance but remains concerned that methods for dealing with it in individual planning applications are inadequate, given public concern.

    —  The Government has also proposed to amend part 24 of the General Permitted Development Order. This currently gives rights to telecommunications operators to develop masts and equipment under 15 metres in height without the need for planning permission. The Government proposes to remove these rights. The LGA strongly welcomed this proposal.

  The LGA has taken a fairly strong line on the need for greater local planning authority control over the development of mobile telecommunications masts and base stations. Our views have been with the grain of those held by local authorities across the country, of residents and, happily we hope, the Government itself.

  Local authority planning control over this form of development may help to ensure that locations chosen for development are appropriate in terms of their environmental impact and sensitive in terms of the proximity to residents, school-children and workers. It will certainly encourage the kind of dialogue we need with the industry but which has been patchy up till now.


  Earlier comments address the environmental (design) impacts, but there are some key health issues that remain, certainly in the minds of the many local communities.

  Overall the health issue remains a sticky one. As it stands, it is not dealt with satisfactorily in the proposed changes to the Planning Policy Guidance Note 8 on Telecommunications development. The LGA has remained uneasy over the issue and the source of our unease is two-fold.


  Assume for a moment that the planning guidance is finalised in line with the draft and that changes to the General Permitted Development Order are introduced as proposed. In this case, all mobile phone development will require full planning permission and local authorities will be required to consider the health implications of mobile phone mast/base station development. The key test of the health effects is likely to be whether the ICNIRP guidelines on emissions have been met.

  And here is a key problem for local government. The system proposed would be based on self-certification. We are not satisfied that this will allay public concerns or adequately ensure that the standards required are met. The LGA has called for a competent body to be able to determine whether or not the standards required are met and then issue a certificate if they are.

  Local authorities are not that body, but there is a question about who should have this role. Candidates include the National Radiological Protection Board and the Radio Communications Agency. Some local authorities urged health authorities to be included as a statutory consultee and this was reflected in our response.

  The key ingredient in any system of audit and checking of the standards achieved by mobile phone operators in the development of their networks is independence.


  There is a bigger point about the role of local democracy. We are clear that, as with other contentious development where the public perceives negative health implications (such as waste incinerators for example), local planning authorities will not be allowed to let emotive and strong public feeling outweigh all other factors in mobile phone development.

  The Government set out its (pre-revised guidance) position in a letter to all local planning authorities on 29 June 2000. In this letter, the Minister for Housing and Planning stated that:

    "It is our view that, if a proposed development meets the ICNIRP guidelines (as recommended by Stewart on a precautionary basis), it should not be necessary for a planning authority, in processing an application, to consider the health effects further."

  This could make life very difficult for local authorities. It is unlikely that people will be satisfied with an ICNIRP-certified proposed mast/base station (whoever issues this) and yet local authorities will not be supported at planning appeal if they refuse planning permission on the grounds of overwhelming public opposition.

  This is why we have urged that further research is urgently undertaken to remove the doubts created by the Stewart reports over the health impacts, one way or the other. We have also urged a review of the whole situation in two/three years' time. The Government, in responding to the Stewart Report accepted these needs.

  The LGA does intend to take the following action:

    —  Our chairman, Sir Jeremy Beecham, has already written to the Government urging immediate publication of the revised PPG8 and changes to the GPDO. We intend to keep the pressure up.

    —  We want to work with local authorities and the Federation of the Electronics Industry to cement the principle that the development of mobile phone networks must be done in strategic consultation with local authorities and reflect a precautionary approach along the lines you suggest.

    —  We will issue advice to all local authorities on how to take forward these matters with the industry and local people.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 3 April 2001