Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2001
120. When you say "independently",
by an agency like the RCA?
(Mr Joyce) I think so, because they would be in a
good position to do it.
121. What about information on a beam of greatest
intensity, where that would fall? Is that not what worries people
most in these applications?
(Councillor Bailey) Yes. That should be shown as well
and I believe that is also mentioned as one of the recommendations
in the Stewart Report. It appears to me essential that people
have the opportunity to see that information.
122. Can I ask about some of the effects on
the planning system of what is being suggested? If all base stations
were subject to planning permission, how would council staff and
members cope with the workload? Would you have to have a revised
fee scale? How many more staff would you need?
(Councillor House) We are making separate representations
to DETR about the planning fee structure and that has been an
ongoing process. We are jointly working with DETR on these issues.
I think they are quite apart from issues around telecom masts
and base stations. The first reaction from both elected members
and professional planners to bringing this kind of development
within the planning system formally has been relief. So much time
is currently spent by planners and by elected members trying to
explain to local communities that this is a different structure
and a different process at the moment that there is a lot of waste.
It feeds a sense that there is something wrong here from local
residents, the fact that it is a different system. That tends
to result in more time being taken. I do not think there is a
big issue in terms of costs, staff time or member time in bringing
this area formally under the planning system. The reverse is more
likely to be the case.
123. You will be able to deliver all these permissions
within the eight week timescale?
(Councillor House) At the moment, local authorities
deliver a response to meet the timescales set forward quicker
than that. In practice, what many local authorities are trying
to do at the moment in quite difficult circumstances is treat
these consultations, these prior approvals, as being mini planning
applications. They are trying to consult communities in the same
way as they would through a formal planning route. There is not
a great deal of change in terms of the processes that the local
authority would actually have to administer.
124. Yet you say that the prior approval procedures
actually cost more in staff time than normal applications would.
I could not quite understand that.
(Mr Joyce) The reason for that is you have three systems.
You have a normal planning application where people expect to
be either notified by being given notice or a letter. You then
have a 28 day system which does not necessarily need notification
by the local authority. If you like, it is optional. Also, of
course, the timescales are much less. Then you have the 42 day
system whereby the responsibility is on the operator. For the
person in the street, it is very difficult to understand why one
mast in one part of a district needs planning permission and notification
in the normal way and one in the next street of a similar scale
and size does not. You spend a lot of time as a planning authority
explaining the intricacies of the different systems; whereas if
they were all rolled into one system that either needed planning
application or did not, that would save an awful lot of time and
frustration from members of the public in terms of understanding
the system. With planning applications, there is opportunity to
extend the time and continue discussions to resolve issues, maybe
either as a result of getting responses back from the public or
from discussions with an operator. The difference with a 28 and
a 42 day system at the moment is that you have to make a decision
within that timescale. If you do not, it is a deemed approval
and that does not allow for those negotiations and discussions
125. That is the exactly the concern of the
operators. They say that if you move over to a full planning application
system there are going to be inordinate delays and these discussions
you refer to will go on far beyond the eight week period while
it is costing the operators money and they will only have the
option of appealing or being held to ransom by the local authority.
(Mr Joyce) The answer to that is back to two things.
One is prior application discussions with authorities, open and
detailed. Secondly, and very importantly, is the quality of the
information submitted at the time the application is submitted.
At the present time, the regulations do not require operators
to submit a great deal of information. The code of best practice
does require a lot of information but that is not the regulations.
A very simple way of overcoming this particular issue would be
to translate the code of best practice which all operators have
signed up to into basic regulation. So, the quality of information
and early contact with the local authority will overcome some
of these concerns that the operators may have.
(Councillor Bailey) From the LGA, we are encouraging
nationally now applicants not only in this industry but elsewhere
to indulge in extensive pre-application consultations with local
authorities in order to smooth the path once the application has
come in. Indeed, in the letter on 9 March here from the FEI they
say that they will participate in obligatory free roll-out and
free application consultation and they will develop standard supporting
documentation for all planning submissions. They are starting
to take this on board. I am of the view personally that there
should not be applications for single macro or micro sole masts,
but as they have some idea on the honeycomb system where they
are going in a particular district they should be coming forward
with some sort of strategic plan. I do not believe it will take
longer but it is an important part of the built in natural environment.
Why should this industry be different to any other?
126. Would you be prepared to concede that it
would be a good idea to have a default permission system, particularly
where that involves alterations or additions to an existing structure?
(Councillor House) The difficulty with that approach
is that it puts pressure on the local authority to say, "If
there is a default at a certain point to say `This is approved',
we will refuse at the last possible moment." To an extent,
that is what is happening now. It does not help the concept of
cooperation and partnership between the industry and local authorities.
If we are working together with a clear set of objectives and
guidelines, these problems should not really arise. Inevitably
there will be odd occasions where, for particular circumstances,
things do not work as well as they should do. Those need to be
looked at and examined. There is an appeal process. Clearly, that
is a last resort. It is not one that we as local authorities want
to see used widely because it actually brings planning systems
127. Do you expect planning permission to be
required for all base stations or would you want to apply de
minimis rules such as we have for satellite dishes?
(Councillor House) We would see all telecom development
brought into the same regime as any other development. If it requires
planning permission for some other use, it would require planning
permission in this case.
128. For example, if you want to put a television
receiver on your roof, it is only if you are in a conservation
area or on a listed building that you have to apply for permission.
(Councillor House) Permitted development rules would
continue. That is the picture we would like to see.
129. The LGA represents, as I understand it,
a police authority. Have you had any discussions about the whole
issue of the TETRA roll-out for the new police airwave communications
network? Are you concerned about what has been said by police
officers, that they are worried about the risks to their own health
in handling this equipment? We heard evidence this morning from
the expert that if there are hazards in any of this they are particularly
likely to be in the area of the TETRA technology which is going
for very low frequencies, unlike normal mobile phone technology.
(Councillor House) I do not think we have had those
130. That is a new subject as far as you are
(Councillor House) Yes.
131. You were saying a moment ago in response
to Mr Chope that you had the capacity to deal with applications
but if you were looking at it in a proactive way have you ever
looked at the position as a local authority in your local plans,
for instance, setting down a network of what might be sites in
your locality that would meet the requirements of the operators
and perhaps may be least controversial so far as the relationship
with the electorate in your localities?
(Councillor House) It is a very good area for further
discussion. The best way of dealing with these things has to be
in partnership with the industry. It has to try and look at issues
on a district-wide basis, rather than simply a planning application
followed by another planning application with no clear route map
as to where we are actually going. Local plans can be one part
of that picture. We would want to encourage there to be cooperative
discussions between the industry and individual local authorities
about how issues can be dealt with in that particular area. That
means that the local authority is a proactive part of the process
of saying, "That site is better than that site. How can we
help make this happen?"
132. It means local authorities also put themselves
in this contentious area into the firing line as well?
(Councillor House) Yes, as we do across the planning
system. That is part of the job.
(Mr Jones) To be able to do that, we do need the information
from the operators on what their network requirements are and
what their technological requirements are and so on. That is across
the whole range of operators, not just individual operators, so
that we can come to those conclusions. It does raise the issue
again about the possibilities of mast sharing and so on.
(Mr Joyce) It certainly needs flexibility on both
sides because from a local authority point of view we are looking
for the most environmentally acceptable location. Technically,
that may not be the most appropriate so it does need some kind
of corresponding give and take in terms of getting to a situation
where, on the generality, you have an acceptable way forward with
regard to future applications.
133. You were saying, Councillor Bailey, a moment
ago in response to Mr Chope that you were seeing some signs that
the industry was looking to consult. In the past, has there been,
in terms of your experience in the LGA across local authorities,
a real reluctance or maybe no amount of prior consultation by
the industry with the local planning authorities?
(Mr Joyce) It is variable. It depends on a number
of factors in terms of operators, whether they talk to authorities
direct or whether they go through agents, how they split up an
area. For example, in Leeds, I have a situation where I have been
talking to two different agents because their areas of responsibility
go straight down the middle of Leeds. Generally speaking, it is
helpful to have those first discussions but you are giving advice
in good faith. I have had experience where that advice has been
ignored, an application has come in and it has been refused. I
try to steer operators away from sensitive sites, but they have
still gone for that particular route. You are offering advice
and you expect it to be heeded to a degree. Also, it is not a
good thing to have one set of discussions; then everything could
go quiet for a year and suddenly you get a whole load of applications.
There does need to be a continual dialogue and I think there is
a responsibility on operators to keep authorities updated because
they may change the way they want to operate or they may bring
in new technology or change their plans. I think it is important
that authorities are kept informed of any changes so you can develop
a dialogue as opposed to just coming in once and not again.
(Councillor Bailey) The LGA has been emphasising the
need for cooperation in dealing with all planning applications.
There was a concordat published last year which we saw as a step
forward. We are not necessarily saying things were bad before
but we were looking to improve. This industry, in response to
public concerns and also the recommendations of the Stewart Report,
is now saying that they will cooperate in this. I see that as
a beneficial step.
(Councillor House) It could be argued that the relationship
is maturing. We have seen effectively a new industry develop and
grow very rapidly. That growth is set to continue. New relationships
need to be formed. There was a degree of suspicion, almost hostility
in some cases, between operators and local planning authorities.
That is a process which is now beginning to change and I welcome
that change very much. The industry has found that it is better
to talk to local authorities and equally local authorities have
found that it is better to talk to the operators.
(Mr Jones) Consultation does vary between operators.
In my experience, it is improving and we are getting more early
warning, more roll out plans coming from the operators. In the
past, there has been a limited amount of consultation but my view
is that the operators took the view that they were consulting
from a position of strength because they were in the driving seat.
134. We have had evidence from Orange which
suggests that the takeup of offers from local authorities was
not very high. They were prepared to consult prior to the event
but found that most local authorities were indifferent until a
proper planning application had been made and the site had been
indicated. Do you find that some of the operatorsand there
are only four or five main onesare more proactive than
(Mr Joyce) It is variable. Each company has a slightly
different approach to it and therefore some of the operators are
very keen and continue to keep you up to date with what is happening.
That is helpful. Others only come into the office once they are
about to submit a whole load of applications. The quality of the
information is also variable in terms of what they know. That
may not be a fault of the operators or their agents; it may well
be genuinely that they do not know until they have done further
work exactly what they are going to do in terms of the area that
you are covering.
(Mr Jones) Orange approached us with their roll out
plans and we did have a presentation from them and consultation
with them, but in that particular instance the applications came
in exactly as they were shown on the roll out plans. One takes
a view about the value of that.
135. Local authorities are substantial land
owners. I understand that there are a couple of authorities, Kent
and Islington, who have just taken a blanket view, "No masts
on our land, period." Any comments on that?
(Councillor House) Not on individual local authorities,
no. We, as an association, do not comment on individual policies
of local authorities. What we do say very strongly is that we
need to find the best sites. Over time, I suspect that more cooperation
between local authorities collectively and individually in the
industry will overcome some of these issues. The key gap at the
moment is the missing national planning authority guidance. Until
we get that gap overcome, we are not going to see a consistent
pattern of performance across local government because local government
is operating in a vacuum. Because residents in communities do
not have confidence in the system, I do not think it is therefore
that surprising if some local authorities have then decided, "We
do not want to have any truck with this. So far as our land is
concerned, no go."
136. They do not want to put themselves in the
(Councillor House) At the moment. Some of them would
argueand there could be some justification for this"Why
should we? We have not got clarity from government. Until we get
clarity from government, we are going to say `no way'".
137. Does that wash? Even this morning, the
pressure groups most concerned about this conceded that it was
thoroughly unreasonable for local authorities to have a blanket
refusal policy. It seems as though you are condoning local authorities
that have a blanket refusal policy. If you are not condoning them,
can you take the opportunity presented by the Committee today
to say that you think it is totally unacceptable that a local
authority charged with responsibility for taking decisions on
planning applications should have a blanket refusal policy?
(Councillor House) If we are to have a comprehensive,
good quality network which serves the needs of our communities,
we have to look for the best sites. If some of those best sites
have to be on local authority land, then local authorities have
to accept some responsibility for that, but it is not going to
happen until we have a properly published and agreed policy framework
for dealing with these issues. It is not there at the moment.
It is not therefore surprising if some local authorities have
said, "We are not prepared to get involved in this debate."
It may not be very helpful but there is a vacuum that needs to
138. Could we move on to mast sharing? Do you
have any means whereby the option of mast sharing can be explored
at the early stages of discussions with operators?
(Mr Jones) One of the problems comes back to the regulatory
system that we are in because of the very limited time we have
available, namely 28 days or 42 days, which means that what we
ask for is information from the applicant on what efforts they
have made to mast share as part of the information with the application.
Within that short time scale, it does not give us much of an opportunity
to go back to them and say, "Have you looked at this? Have
you looked at that? What other options are available?" and
still come to a decision within that timescale. That is one issue.
If I may pursue that a little further, one of our particular concerns
is with the new technology systems which are coming in at the
moment in microcells rather than macrocells. It would appear that
the options for sharing microcell masts are much more limited
because of their very nature. That is going to be a big issue
if every operator is going to want a microcell network, particularly
within residential areas, because it seems to me that the options
for sharing are going to be extremely limited for that sort of
139. There is supposed to be a national database.
Some people say it may not be worth that much but as local authorities
you are also supposed to have a list of installations. Do you
(Mr Joyce) The guidance advocates that authorities
have voluntary registers and, if I take my own authority in Leeds,
we do have a voluntary register. The purpose of that is to alert
prospective operators of potential mast sharing. It is literally
the sites where we have planning permission or a determination
has been approved, so that they can look around and possibly mast
share. What it does not do is give you information about emissions.
As I understand it, a national database would provide information
about all masts with emissions so that members of the public can
see from that information where masts were and what kind of emissions
they were giving out, whether they complied with the ICNIRP guidelines.
There are two different things here. One is about mast sharing;
one is about emissions.