Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Hutchison 3G


  Mobile communications are now well established as an integral part of modern society. They are fundamental to business operations, individual lifestyles and the welfare of the national economy. The operator's customers comprise more than 58 per cent of the total population of the UK. More than 40,000 people buy mobile phones every day.

  This success has seen mobile communications become a key sector of the UK economy, contributing in excess of £22 billion in licence fees this year alone, some £6 billion to UK GDP annually, to the UK Exchequer in tax revenue, and employing around 164,000 people directly and indirectly across the country.

  Hutchison 3G UK Limited (H3G) recognises that there is public concern about the possible health effects of radio base stations, notwithstanding statements on the current scientific consensus by the National Radiological Protection Board, the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones, and advice of the World Health Organisation. Policy relating to possible health effects is a matter for the Department of Health, based on expert scientific advice. The local planning authority role should be guided by this advice.

  A move to extend full planning would be fundamentally flawed because the planning system is not designed to assess possible health risks. Indeed, extending full planning is likely to aggravate concerns by raising false expectations of a public veto towards telecommunications development, resulting in increased community frustration.

  Extending full planning will leave mobile networks increasingly unable to meet the demands of millions of customers. All this will put at risk the Government's commitment "to developing the UK as the best place in the world for e-commerce"—an outcome dependent on third generation and other new services.

  The guidance should positively discriminate in favour of site sharing so as to reduce the need for new sites and minimise the opportunity for economic delay in the infrastructure deployment for the new operator. The operator's intention to improve the transparency and speed of access for site sharing, as set out in the FEI submission, is essential to H3G's rollout strategy. H3G looks forward to the support of the Government in improving the ability of the operators to site share and ensuring that the Key Performance Indicators are met.

  Conclusion, extending full planning will not resolve the health issue, but will adversely affect the UK economy and the nation's leading position in delivering the e-society.


  Increased concerns over the alleged health aspects of mobile telecommunication technologies and separate concerns over the process of planning determination for telecommunications development have led to a Government review of the planning process and the publication by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) of a Consultation Paper (CP).

  The CP considers whether a move to extend full planning controls on all telecommunications infrastructure would alleviate public concerns regarding the health aspects and, separately, the siting and appearance of telecommunications development.

  H3G has considered the issue in detail and does not believe that a move to extend full planning controls would resolve either issue.

  This response explores the issue in detail and develops the reasons for this conclusion. H3G supports the response submitted by the Federation of the Electronics Industry (FEI), on behalf of the UK's five mobile network telecommunication operators. That response proposes alternative means to resolve public concerns within the framework of retained permitted development control.


3.1  The Information Society; the benefits of mobile communications to the UK economy

  H3G won one of the third generation mobile licences to run public telecommunications services and to provide mobile radio communication services and is now investing in planning and deploying its network infrastructure throughout the UK.

  H3G endorses the Government's general policy to develop telecommunications competition and to widen the availability of advanced communications services and recognises the balance Government must adopt with its commitment to environmental objectives.

  Mobile communications are now well established as an integral part of modern society. They are fundamental to business operations, individual lifestyles and the welfare of the national economy. Currently, more than 58 per cent of the UK population use mobile communications. More than 40,000 people buy mobile phones every day.

  As the information age enters a new millennium, users of data and multimedia communications services will expect and demand that these same services will continue to be available to them at any location. Multimedia services allow the delivery of a rich variety of audio, visual and text-based information in addition to voice and simple data.

  The development of mobile communications networks is a key source of information delivery and an important stimulant of the IT revolution. Furthermore, the role of mobile communications networks will continually develop with the evolution of current telephony standards and the move into third generation networks.

  H3G firmly believes that mobile services will further establish themselves as important components of the digital communication infrastructure. It is clear that the history of the take-up of new services through the current mobile phone network operators strongly suggests that demand for new broadband services will be very high and is likely to outpace any forecasts that might be made.

3.2  Third generation services: the new "e-society"

  The Government recently completed the auction of the licences for the third generation of mobile phones using UMTS (wide broadband) technology. H3G, the UK's only pure third generation operator, will make available to its customers services, via UMTS technology that will revolutionise both the mobile phone and the Internet. These services will bring together telecommunication, multimedia and IT, to connect the consumer with people, information and services, on the move.

  H3G believes that the opportunity these services will provide is in enhancing lifestyle; making tasks simpler and enjoyable, creating personal liberation and improving the value of time. It is predicted that by 2003 many more people will be accessing the Internet from mobile devices than from fixed personal computers. Currently, there are over 300 million mobile phones and 400 million PCs worldwide. In three years, whilst the number of PC's will have risen to 500 million, the number of Internet compatible phones could have reached 1 billion. H3G agrees that in the near future mobile devices will be playing a major role in the provision of consumer access to Internet services.

  The applications will be important for the small and medium sized business sector who will be able to exploit benefits in such areas as supply chain economics, remote staff and customer support and new economy vertical markets.

  The changes being brought about by the Information Age in the increasing convergence of information systems and telecommunications will extend to Government, as it will seek new opportunities to focus on:

    —  transforming education in the development of knowledge and skills;

    —  widening access for the benefit of all;

    —  promoting competitiveness for the benefit of customers, jobs and the economy;

    —  fostering quality in the range of accessibility of services;

    —  modernising Government to provide better, more convenient services.

  With this flexibility, H3G contends that third generation communications will have many advantages over the traditional fixed line services and current mobile telephony services, in providing modern high speed digital communications technology. H3G believes that policy issues in relation to 3G mobile communications must reflect its critical role in the overall delivery of digital technology.

  Of particular importance to H3G, as the new entrant without the economic and practical benefits of an existing base station infrastructure, is to ensure that we can provide customers with the benefits of third generation services, efficiently, effectively and within the timeframe of our licence requirements and competitively and equally with our competitors.

  Mobile communication networks form a vital part of the necessary digital communications infrastructure, and are of "national importance" in keeping with other forms of infrastructure provision. They are not simply an alternative means by which some services may be delivered but will be the driver of a whole range of new services and business opportunities, which would not otherwise exist.


4.1  How a network is planned

  For the "consumer" to benefit from all these services, it is vital to recognise the reasons for this and not to take for granted that it would automatically remain true, regardless of extra regulation and restrictions, which may be added.

  The primary reason why the current network operators have been able to achieve such high standards of coverage and capacity is that the Government has broadly struck the right balance between different policy objectives by providing operators with permitted development rights. These rights have allowed operators to roll out their networks speedily and effectively to meet customer demand and licence requirements.

  In contemplating communications network development, it is important to understand the principles of how a network is planned.

  The technological characteristics of communications technology, customer demand/usage patterns and the availability of suitable land/sites mean that the freedom available in the construction of a radio networks is limited.

  Antennas are used to transmit and receive radio signals to and from a handset. These antennas may be fixed to a mast structure, mounted on existing buildings or on other suitable structures. The necessary height of where the antennas are to be located is a function of the area required to be covered—known as the "cell"—and its topography, plus other factors affecting the signal such as building height and tree cover. In 3G UMTS systems the principle is to reuse the same frequency on every cell. In this way we can achieve large amounts of capacity from the available spectrum, which is essential if the benefits of UMTS are to be realised to the full.

  Initially, the radio networks are configured with relatively large cells, with antennas located in elevated positions. As demand increases within an existing cell, "cell splitting" is necessary where additional base stations are required for each newer smaller cell.

  By understanding these basic principles of mobile communication network planning it is clear that as the demand increases, there is an additional need for base stations.

  As part of its commitment to the consumer, OFTEL, the telecommunications regulator for the UK, issues performance indicators to reflect the network quality of the current mobile networks operated within the UK. All current and future operators, including H3G, will be maintaining a balance between:

    —  satisfying licence conditions to ensure customer demand is met;

    —  ensuring call quality and service requirements meet with Regulator approval;

    —  environmental concerns over base station developments are satisfactorily managed.

  H3G is keen to ensure that the proposed revised DETR planning procedures reflect positively on mobile communications development and take account of the extensive benefits of improved communications, which offer a number of significant social and economic benefits.

4.2  Why extending full planning control will not work

4.2.1  Health and planning control issues; making the fundamental distinction

  The public concerns relating to the siting of base stations stem from two fundamental and different issues. The first relates to the planning process by which certain telecommunications development is determined. The second relates to the perceived impact that radio wave energy emanating from the radio antenna might have on human health. The emission of radio waves is a characteristic shared by other sources of radio broadcasts, however the concern seems to be limited to mobile phone base stations.

  Both the report of the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (the Stewart Report) and this CP adopt the position that any health risk associated with base stations is satisfactorily dealt with by technical standards and that issues of health should not be managed by the land use planning system. H3G strongly endorses this approach.

  However, both then go on to describe proposed changes to the planning system that will be interpreted by communities as being made in order to deal with their concerns over health. Only if public concerns over health issues are dealt with through a separate and suitable forum of risk communication, will it be possible to introduce a development control system that achieves the provision of necessary communication services and the protection of the visual landscape.

  The distinction between health issues and planning considerations must be fundamental to the processes applied to development control. At the present time, and notwithstanding the statements that planning is not the forum to deal with health issues, many of the proposals put forward in the CP on changes to the development control system are in response to, and will be seen by the public as a response to, health concerns.

4.2.2  How to address planning control issues

  The creation of radio networks across the country is necessary to maintain a lead in the provision of mobile communications services for the consumer, comparative with other countries.

  Greater regulation will impair competition. It is not realistic to believe that regulation can be imposed without any cost in terms of access to market and competitiveness, particularly to H3G who is a new entrant without any existing network on which to share and use in the construction of a network.

  It must be recognised that a third generation network will take time to rollout and, although this process is beginning, it must continue within a time frame that meets consumer demand for service.

  Most of the concerns currently being raised are in connection with base station transmitters located in residential and other built up areas. But it is these locations that the transmitters must be sited in order to allow customers to access mobile services inside their homes and other buildings. For very straightforward technical reasons, it is not possible to place the transmitters in more sparsely populated areas and still maintain the same level of in-building coverage that is required. This will apply to 3G services more than to GSM 2G as it utilises a part of the spectrum that makes penetration of buildings even more difficult.

  H3G recognises that the existence of permitted development rights in England has caused problems in the past as local residents have not always previously felt engaged in the planning system or felt able to engage the local authority or industry with representations over proposed development.

  The introduction of consultation measures with the revised Prior Approval regulations in April 1999 has helped significantly in engaging local people with the process.

  There can be no doubt that if full planning were introduced for all future development, including radio base sites located on roof tops, other mast structures and sharing arrangements and upgrades, the Government's objectives for the e-society, would be seriously jeopardised.

4.2.3  Measures to address the planning control issue

  Subjecting all telecommunications development to full planning control will not produce a satisfactory outcome.

  The rationale to produce processes to ensure that the amenity impact of communications networks is minimised do not correspond to the processes involved in "full planning". There are, however improvements that could be made to the existing permitted development process that would address such concerns.

  The key is a process involving the local planning authority, the elected members and the community in a manner that is effective in achieving the final outcome.

  The aim is to operate a development control process that will strike a realistic balance between the interests of the industry and the community, without causing delay to the consumer in the provision of mobile communication services.

4.2.4  Proposals

  H3G supports the response submitted by the FEI and the proposals developed in the paper to resolve public concerns within the framework of retained permitted development control.

  The aims of the proposals are:

  To provide greater opportunity for better quality of public consultation—the FEI sets out commitments that the industry is willing to address to meet this objective.

  To ensure reasonable certainty in the planning determination process—the certainty of the permitted development scheme enables operators to programme and finance infrastructure rollout. Extending full planning determination for all telecommunications development will increase the uncertainty and delay in planning and operating a network, thereby not meeting customer coverage and service expectations.

  To support mast and site sharing opportunities—the following section 4.2.5 explores this area in detail. This is of particular importance to H3G, as the new entrant without the economic and practical benefits of an existing base station infrastructure.

4.2.5  Mast sharing

  H3G is committed to the use of mast and site sharing where this will reduce the proliferation of mobile communications infrastructure. However, if such sharing is to be widely used it must be made possible to get new antenna installed in the same time frame as the construction of new mast structures. This is especially true if, as a result of changes to the development control system, operators are required to mast share in order to provide service.

  H3G supports the position in the FEI submission of industry commitment to improving the process and transparency of site sharing. The success of this commitment will be dependent on:

  Existing operators being encouraged not to use the incentive of poor internal administration as options of delay and high sharing costs.

  Landowners being provided with incentives to support sharing as against the financial benefit of allowing an additional mast structure to be built.

  The regulatory process recognising the benefits of mast sharing as against the impact on amenity costs.

  Without co-operation from the mast structure owners and landowners, H3G will put into a competitively disadvantaged position. It has no existing network of sites and therefore the balance of power in terms of mutual sharing lies with the existing operators.

  H3G believes that to encourage mast/structure sharing, allowance should be made within the guidance/legislation to:

  Permit "small" incremental increases in structure height to accommodate sharing, which would include the extension of enclosure facilities and appropriate cabin requirements. Encourage public sector agencies, existing radio communication organisations, etc, to be site providers for telecommunications development.

  The removal of legislative restrictions on the number of network operator owned base stations on a single building. These restrictions were imposed at a time when most base stations structures were far more visible than is so today. With the advent of 3G and the entrance of a new operator, there will be a reduction in the number of premium sites should any restrictions apply.

4.2.6  The consideration of RF health on informing planning policy

  There have been many debates and reviews over the factors that should be taken into account when considering communications development. Growing concerns about the alleged health effects of mobile communications technologies has given rise to a UK independent report into the "safety" of the technology and pressure for the proposed introduction of legislation, through the planning development control system, to "protect" the public.

  The inquiry conducted for the UK Government by the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones, chaired by Sir William Stewart (Stewart Report), recognises that there is no substantiated evidence to suggest a link between the use of mobile phones and long-term health effects, but H3G and the UK mobile telecommunications industry recognise public concern.

  The report makes a very clear conclusion;

    "The balance of evidence to date does not suggest mobile phone technologies put the health of the general population of the UK at risk"

  In addition, the Report also points out that;

    "Indeed, the exposure received by people living near to broadcast transmitters of high power output is likely to be appreciably greater than that received by people living near mobile phone base stations" (Page 33, para 4.2)

  The overall conclusion of the Report in relation to base stations is;

    "We conclude that the balance of evidence indicates that there is no general risk to the health of people living near to base stations on the basis that exposures are expected to be small fractions of the guidelines..."

  The issue of supposed direct health effects is one of the major drivers of the objections to the current permitted development planning process. Visual intrusion, concerns about property values and inability to participate in the development process are separate concerns but have at their core the perceived direct health impact.

  As the CP recognises, "it is not for the planning authority to replicate through the planning system controls under the health and safety regime". In addition, the Government's response to the Stewart report stated that if base stations meet the requirements of ICNIRP then "it should not be necessary for an authority, in processing an application, to consider health effects further".

  Such clear advice will enable local planning authorities to minimise "unsubstantiated views" and make consistent and non-arbitrary decisions.

  It follows that changing the planning system will not in practice address the direct health concerns, although this is precisely the expectation of many of those with these concerns.

  Notwithstanding that there is no substantiated evidence of direct health dangers from base stations that comply with ICNIRP, there is still some concern from the public about alleged health effects. These issues must be dealt with if there is to be general acceptance of the necessary infrastructure to deliver mobile communication services. As has been recognised by this consultation the evaluation of safety issues has to be done outside the planning process, through a government review of risk and risk communication, with the objective of setting out how risks are known, evaluated and communicated professionally and realistically.


  The CP requires the completion of 10 consultation questions.

  H3G supports the Response of the FEI and will not in this paper, respond to the ten questions. Further more, it sees the implementation of the FEI response as a mechanism of improving telecommunications development control for all.


  The benefits of requiring individual planning permission for base stations will be minimal in comparison with the negative impact, which result from a delayed rollout. The limited availability of sites to meet customer demand means that there are unlikely to be significant differences in terms of loss of amenity and visual intrusion due to the industry's commitments to base station design and location.

  Benefits are suggested for options 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8 as a result of communities being able to participate in the planning process. The issue of introducing a process that gives only the appearance, but not the substance, of giving communities significant influence on the location and design of base stations must also be taken into account. The additional "costs" to operators and local/central government when communities realise the failure in the system to deliver their expectations of a veto, must also be taken into account.


  The main proposals set out in the consultation paper to extend full planning control for telecommunications development will, if implemented, result in government failing in its objective of the UK leading the development of the "e-society". As the new entrant, it is of strategic importance to H3G that it is able to rollout its network and launches its service as soon as feasibly possible, and (to the extent possible) on a level playing field with the other operators. The imposition of increased planning controls on telecommunications network development, will adversely affect the balance between H3G and the other operators and, therefore, the emergence of 3G services. Indeed, the importance of the entry of a new operator was recognised by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Stephen Byers:

  "I welcome the introduction of a new entrant to the UK mobile telecoms market. This has been a direct result of the decision to auction five licences. Greater competition will spur faster roll-out of more innovative services, as well as delivering greater choice and lower prices to the consumer"

  There is however improvements that can be made to the existing permitted development process, as outlined in the FEI Response that would provide additional amenity safeguards. This would ensure that local communities and local planning authorities are better informed and influence the realistic choices that are available, without artificially raising expectations as to what is and is not, possible.

7 March 2001

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