Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 179)



  160. What sort of speed of decision would you be expecting if this regime was to come in?
  (Mr Rumbelow) Clearly the full planning arena already indicates and stipulates the time period when a normal planning application will be determined. That is presently an eight week period in England. We feel that if there were significant concerns raised clearly the application may not be determined within that initial time period, it may be delayed for another eight weeks for further consultation to actually take place. Clearly the appeal is the ultimate process after that which then brings in a further delay while the planning inspector determines it. We are looking at significant delay added to the normal planning application process which the permitted development system does not provide for.

  161. Would you find a default permission system, say if you did not get permission within eight weeks you have got permission by default, of some assistance in such a regime?
  (Mr Rumbelow) I think the current process within permitted development where there is a default system has been beneficial to us. The reason that it was originally placed within the Planning Guidance was that Government policy towards telecommunications, as indicated in PPG8, was a presumption in favour of development to assist network roll-out, to assist in providing customers with a service. If you were to remove that default process clearly that would, in addition, delay the network build-up in overall terms not to the benefit of the consumer.

  162. We have heard some authorities are apparently applying moratoria already, or a policy of blanket refusals. Can you identify which authorities are doing that?
  (Mr Rumbelow) There are a number of authorities across the country that are applying moratoria for different reasons. In terms of the actual authorities—my colleagues may be able to help further—both metropolitan and rural authorities are applying that policy at the moment.

  163. How long do you think that attitude will continue amongst those authorities?
  (Mr Rumbelow) I think what is required is to ensure that the Government guidance, when it comes out for England, is clear and provides a surety not just for us as operators but also a surety for local authorities as to how they should deal with those applications. We hope on the basis of that guidance that comes out the authorities that do have either a stated moratoria, or in some cases implied moratoria, will revoke that policy and become more conducive to understanding and approving and allowing applications to proceed.

  164. I imagine there are hundreds of appeals outstanding, are there not? If every time somebody refuses you permission I imagine you are appealing against them, are these appeals stacking up?
  (Mr Innes) Can I give a little bit of further clarity and then perhaps answer your question. I think it is fair to say that the moratoria imposed by most local authorities are in respect of the land they own. Like many landowners they have the right to veto as to whether we can or cannot locate on their sites. There are planning guidance positions that many local authorities work to and, as an industry, we work hard with them to satisfy those guidelines. There are some that say may be no closer than 60 metres to residential property, there are some that say not on schools. Where we can, as an industry, we will clearly work within those but there are occasions when we cannot meet those requirements and the number of appeals as a result have gone up. To say they are significant would be unfair at this point but they are seen to be increasing. If we do not get the guidance that I believe those local authorities are looking for, we may see that situation deteriorate.

  165. If the new PPG allows health fears to be a material consideration, how do you think that will affect you?
  (Mr Dolan) Health fears and concerns that people have about them are very important to the community, but at the same time public health is a matter for national Government and there ought to be clear guidance from national Government right across the country in relation to that. We would echo what was said to you earlier today, that the Government does need to take that issue fairly and squarely and provide information both to the community and give clear guidance to local planning authorities.

  166. Do you think you should be paying more fees to local authorities because of the costs that they are incurring as a result of administering the system?
  (Mr Dunn) I think the industry's stated position is that we are prepared to look at the subject of fees. Because we pay a lower fee with permitted development we are prepared to discuss that with local authorities and look to match the fees allowed for under full planning.

  167. If you had known, as now seems likely from what the Government has indicated, that when you were bidding for third generation licences you were going to have to have a full planning permission regime, would you have bid slightly less or would you have made any adjustment to the timescales that have been laid down as a condition of the third generation licences, 80 per cent by 2007?
  (Mr Short) As you know, we all bid and the total was £22.5 billion, but it was bid against a market demand assessment that many of us took on the long-term basis, a 20 year basis. Secondly, it was against a very detailed prospectus with many, many conditions in it. If I was to take one variable out, like full planning permission or health, then I think I could give a very distorted answer to your question. We do not regret winning licences, we are very pleased to be 3G licensees, we want to serve customers. We know that around 20 per cent of total minutes of use in telecoms are now served by mobile networks, more spectrum helps us to serve more customers and satisfy more demand. I do not think we regret it at all. Do we wish to change the rules again, that is a longer debate for another day.

  168. You said earlier that you thought that public expectations would be raised and then dashed if there was a full planning permission regime because planning permission in the eyes of the public is seen as a veto, whereas in fact it is not. Short of some full planning permission regime, what do you think should be done?
  (Mr Dolan) I think it lies in this: we talked about public concerns earlier and many of those public concerns do come out of the health issue. Our view clearly is that the key to addressing those public concerns lies in improved consultation and communication both with local planning authorities and also with local communities. To this end, over the past several months the industry has been working to put together a series of commitments to address these issues. It has been engaging with stakeholders, such as MastAction UK, as you heard this morning, and also we have a meeting lined up with the Local Government Association and the Royal Town Planning Institute to effectively develop a code of best practice in relation to this. The industry view is that simply placing this into the full planning system of itself is not going to solve the problem, it will in some respects cause many of the problems which you adverted to, Mr Chope. On the other hand, if we move forward irrespective of what the planning regime is to engage local planning authorities with more information, with more dialogue at earlier stages, and we believe from the evidence we have heard this afternoon that would be welcomed by those local planning authorities, then this takes us a long way down the path. In particular, if members of the community at the end of the day do not feel as disempowered as many of them clearly feel they are at the moment because of the system we all live in then that will clearly be a positive way forward. We think that this series of commitments which we have just announced, and we have written to councils all over the country about, will be a major step forward in helping to solve the problem.


  169. Do you not think this is a wee bit late in the day? Any Member of Parliament could give you a number of instances where there has been concern about masts. Usually it has been, initially at least, on a "I do not like it in my backyard" type of argument. Now, of course, you have the health considerations as well. Government might not be impressed by what you have offered by way of improved consultation because as long as there is a nagging doubt about the health issue the public will want to have some system which is rather more formal than the cosy operation that you are suggesting at the moment.
  (Mr Dolan) In answer to your first question of is this a bit late in the day, there has been enormous and rapid growth in mobile phone technology around the world in the past couple of years so mobile phones have grown enormously, we now have 40 million in the UK as you know, and almost half of those have come into being in the last 18 months or so, and you need the radio base stations in order to support that technology. Obviously concern has been increasing at a fairly rapid rate. I understand what you say in terms of what the Government may or may not impose by way of a regulatory regime but the full planning system will not directly address those concerns. The industry is serious about engaging with stakeholders in developing this code of practice with people such as the Local Government Association, the RTPI and the activist groups, and we think as a partnership this is very much the way forward.

  170. In the post-Stewart research which we heard about this morning, if there were to be—and it is maybe difficult to say—proven that the cause for concern is greater, or if simply out of post-Stewart research there comes a greater need for the precautionary principle to be applied, have you worked out what that might cost you? Have you said this will hold up the technology? I am not asking you to give us sums but in your scenario painting have you painted the gloomy ones as well as the ones that are not too dark?
  (Mr Dolan) If we look on the good side first, I think the outcome of the Stewart inquiry was good news, certainly as far as base stations are concerned. I think Sir William confirmed that in his evidence this morning. The precautionary approach that he recommended was to move to the international guidelines, the ICNIRP guidelines. On the day his Report was published the industry undertook to do that immediately for all new radio base stations and to retrofit as soon as practicable the small numbers that did not comply. As you have already heard, base stations, by and large, comply with the guidelines significantly and in Sir William's Report he said that the "balance of evidence indicates that there is no general risk to the health of the people living near base stations on the basis that exposures are expected to be small fractions of the guidelines." That has been shown in a study undertaken by the NRPB in the last 12 months and also the Radio Communications Agency random audit has already commenced and is again proving that to be so. I think that is the basis from which we are moving. The industry has already complied with that recommendation moving to the ICNIRP guidelines. The other recommendation was that power be kept to a level commensurate with running the network and the industry already does that for commercial reasons anyway. It is important that there be on-going transparency in relation to the research programme and that will clearly be so. I think this is a matter which has been closely watched by the scientific community not only in this country but also around the world.

Ms Perham

  171. Can I go back to the consultation. Certainly in the evidence from Vodafone and Orange we have got details about the consultation that you have engaged in. Vodafone have offered it since 1994 but Orange have said that take-up has been quite low. Is there a problem with local authorities not wanting to engage on consultation? The impression we got from the LGA earlier was that the information given can be quite variable and in fact maybe some of you do not take up pre-consultation. The second point of your ten-point plan is to have obligatory pre-application consultation, so how do you think this is going to be carried forward for both yourselves as the operators and the authorities and other groups involved?
  (Mr May) Yes we have at Vodafone been engaging in consultation on an increasing scale since 1994 and we have found a variable response from the local authorities. We recognise that they have other priorities and limited resources to deal with some of these issues, but we feel that whilst public opinion is looking to us to engage in that consultation it obviously cannot be a one-sided consultation and where we have taken our decisions to increase the resources and increase the depth of consultation we hope that that will be matched by a similar response from the local authorities.
  (Mr Dunn) I would mirror that. It is a mixed bag and you get a different response from different authorities depending upon their resources, their approach and also sometimes upon the planning process where some local authorities come back with a response that "until we have had a formal application we are not going to do anything with this information you are giving us." That in itself leads to a reluctance to engage which is unfortunate and I think what we are looking for is a unified approach so that ourselves and local planning authorities can work together to have those consultations in a productive way.
  (Mr Innes) I will pick up on the end of this to say that one of the things we say in the framework of suggestions we put forward and initiatives we take is obligatory pre-roll out and pre-application consultations. Clearly we have heard the benefits of it here today and it does need proper resourcing if it is to have any activity both within the industry and the local authorities. We will have to work as an industry and as a community to achieve that, but it has to happen and I think that is the message we need to give here. Whatever the resources it takes to have the proper discussions that the community and our customers require we will put in place and we will work with the local authorities to ensure they are in place.

  172. When you say "proper resourcing" obviously some operators are putting resources into it, but are you saying that the local authorities will have to put more resources into it? You get the impression that they have not got the time to engage on consultation.
  (Mr Innes) Different local authorities are in different conditions much like different operators are in different conditions. It is easier for the five of us to react than perhaps it is for a number of them to react in the same way. Some local authorities already refer all applications to single planning officers within their communities. Others share them within the environment of their planning system. Some people have specialist telecommunications planning officers in place, others have not. Clearly local authorities vary in size and the resources they can apply to one aspect of development in their own areas is very relevant and applicable too. I think the answer to your question is, yes, we are seeing a mixed response and local authorities probably are short of resource in this area but as a community we need to put that right.

  173. Are you finding that the planning authorities that talk to you in advance are able to point to clear policies and plans or have they not got clear guidelines?
  (Mr Innes) I think some have and some have not. It is clear that some local authorities will put forward sites. I think we heard today from the LGA that they feel the operators ignore sites sometimes. Equally, operators feel that they take local authority advice and do not see that advice being delivered in terms of sites in their localities, so it is a mixed thing. The policies that are in place with most local authorities are a framework within which we can work with the local authority, so we welcome policies within local authorities but policies have to be backed by resources to enable us to get the sites we require to deliver the services.

  174. What about consultation with community groups? Orange's evidence refers to that, but some community groups do not always get on with their local council and there are various amenity groups and others. What about consulting them? Is that even more difficult than consulting with the council because perhaps you do tend to get groups and individuals belonging to them who have got the NIMBY attitude "it is near me so I do not want it".
  (Mr Rumbelow) Our collective experience suggests that for most of the network build that we have been engaged in over the last few year or so that most of the sites we have built have not caused a concern, it is over more recent times that that concern has been highlighted. I think that as a responsible industry and one where we recognise that we can put some good practice into place, number one of our commitments is that we want to deliver a significantly improved level of consultation with local communities. How we do that depends very much on the circumstances of the local situation. What we want to do is to be able to offer different types of practice, whether it is roadshows, leaflets, videos, CDs or whatever the requirement might be to service a particular local area to get that consultation engaged. Most of us already are engaged in having that level of consultation anyway. We deal with local communities as situations arise. We do have teams of people who are on hand to go and talk to those people when issues do arise. We do have marketing and information collateral which we can put out to help that advice. What we feel is that process can be added to and the commitment that we are making is to say that we wish to have dialogue with community groups, such as MastAction UK, such as the LGA and others, to actually have different mechanisms by which we can have that consultation with those groups as and when the situation arises. We have also, I understand, looked at how industry elsewhere in the world has reacted to this issue as well and taken best practice from other parts of the world, seeing how they have done it and seeing if we can learn from them as well.

  Ms Perham: Thank you.


  175. Coming back to the issue of the number of masts, masts and site sharing, what would be the most powerful incentive to get more mast sharing?
  (Mr Innes) I think the industry already has some of the most powerful incentives to share. Clearly economic sense says that several operators on one site is a powerful incentive to share. The whole industry is founded on the basis of competition and giving best value to our customers is part of that competitive element. The local authority planning environment encourages operators to share and even within the permitted development environment it is the same. There are occasions when sharing is not the right thing for the environment or the community. We can all point to cases where we have been asked to build a number of smaller masts discreetly hidden rather than one larger mast to support all the operators. There are technical reasons why we cannot always share a mast. We have most of the incentives that we require here today. If you look at some of the information that we submitted to the DETR, we suggested that permitted development rights in respect of extending existing structures may make the process of sharing masts easier and more conducive. As an incentive perhaps that is an incentive but it is not a key incentive.

Mr Laxton

  176. Talking about incentives, there are five of you here representing the companies who bid successfully for the 3G licences, but you are representing Hutchison, Mr Rumbelow, the new boy on the block, if you like. How are you going to persuade your colleagues to mast share with you when clearly you are all fighting tooth and nail in competition with each other for business? Are you not going to be frozen out of this mast sharing process?
  (Mr Rumbelow) Not at all. I think we all come to the table in the current circumstances recognising that site sharing is an important issue. To give the external communities reassurance that we collectively want to do it, and do it where it is appropriate, from our point of view we are very keen and have already demonstrated our commitment to mast sharing in an agreement that we have signed with—

  177. I am sorry to interrupt but have your competitors, so far as allowing you into the market, given their commitment for you to mast share on their kit?
  (Mr Rumbelow) As part of our network roll-out plans we are having discussions with all the existing four operators to come to a collective agreement about site sharing opportunities. In addition to that, there are other mast site providers who we are also having similar discussions with and they are all proving that site availability is something that we as a new entrant will be able to benefit from.
  (Mr Short) Can I stress, as it was "have we done it or not", yes, we have entered discussions. Before the third generation auction we did set up a national sites database back in October the year before last and, as such, we are adding to that all the sites that are available for sharing all the time. In addition to that, we are making visible through our work together on the Radiocommunications Agency database those sites that we need to provide information to the Radiocommunications Agency on. I think in terms of incentives, just to go back to your previous point, it would be very helpful if there were a wider range of sites that we could share which are not necessarily between the five of us. For example, the former nationalised industries, it would be very helpful if they could maybe make some more of their sites available. BT have recently said that they are looking to Crowncastle to try to make sure that some of their exchanges are more widely available for sharing. In addition to that, before British Gas, now Transco, are making their sites more available. It would be helpful to see more sites available that we could share appropriately and to get the appropriate planning regime that would suit that as well.

  178. Okay, but we have got conflicting figures off the industry about the site sharing. For example, I think BT Cellnet say that one in four of new sites and 70 per cent of all other sites are shared, Vodafone have given different figures and One2One say around about two-thirds. Can we drill down on it and can you give us an accurate figure of what level of site sharing takes place?
  (Mr Short) The figures that Paul Innes gave earlier on were the consolidated view. Clearly we come from different backgrounds given that some of us were born in 1984 and some of us were born a bit later when competition was added to. As you progress clearly the amount of site sharing will depend on your genesis and the technology you use and the factors that Paul referred to. We can put those in writing and confirm those if you need that.
  (Mr Dunn) There is also a question of terminology perhaps that it might be helpful to explain a little bit about. There is the sharing of masts, if you like, in a traditional lattice tower type approach and some of us would include in those figures sharing of infrastructure, such as buildings, so it is not a tower as such but a number of antennae on top of the same building rooftop, for example. Those are included in shared sites in some of the figures, which is why the figures may differ.
  (Mr Innes) Can I refer once more to the commitments we are giving to publish clear and transparent criteria on cross-industry site sharing. To that there will be some metrics that we will measure industry against and we will publish those metrics that will enable a broader range of people to actually see that the industry is sharing those sites. In terms of looking forward, the transparency will come from the commitments that we are making at this point in time. Looking backwards, I am confident that we do share sites and that the figures you are seeing are fairly consistent. It is true to say that what was a sole One2One site five years ago is now a shared mast, so in terminology it is difficult to say the site is shared or not shared because things develop. To put some statistics on that, many sites now within the One2One portfolio—I am sure with the other operators we can quantify that for you—are the subject of applications to share today to the point that I believe that the number of shared sites will go up significantly over the period. The figures we gave you of 6,000 to 9,000 are probably the most pessimistic view of how individual sites will develop.

  179. You hope that it will pan out at something less than that?
  (Mr Innes) I agree.

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