Select Committee on Trade and Industry Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Council for the Protection of Rural England


  1.  The special consideration which the planning system affords telecommunications operators is having an increasingly damaging impact on both the landscape and public confidence in the planning system. In addition, the prior notification system (for telecommunications development less than 15m tall) virtually excludes members of the public from considering a large number of telecommunications applications and has further increased public dissatisfaction. Operators are perceived to have too much power and communities too little.

  2.  As public disquiet grows—exacerbated by a number of "unknowns" such as the effect on public health—some councils are attempting to bridge the confidence gap by initiatives such as blanket bans on telecommunications development on land within their ownership. This in turn feeds the public conviction that there is something wrong with the existing system and intensifies concerns about development on sites which are not in public ownership. The arrival of third generation technology and the establishment of a new telecommunications system for the emergency services—both of which brings pressures for more masts at even closer intervals than previously—makes the need for a solution all the more urgent.

  3.  This evidence summarises CPRE's views and highlights the key issues which we would ask the Committee to address. It is supplemented by our response to the DETR consultation paper on telecommunication mast development in October 2000 and a CPRE briefing Telecoms development for local volunteers.


  4.  CPRE recognises the importance to the economy of an effective and efficient telecommunications industry. We support a planned, coherent approach to desired network expansion, which would then enjoy public confidence. Such an approach should allow technical challenges to be explored openly and weighed against potential environmental damage. We are confident that, given the right incentives and encouragement, the industry can rise to the challenge of finding technical solutions where they are needed. Local people should have the opportunity to participate in such debates, contribute to the search for compromise and to have confidence in the outcomes.


  5.  The proliferation of many thousands of masts in the landscape where no other development would be permitted provides a very visual reminder of the special privileges enjoyed by the telecommunications industry. The individual and cumulative impact on the countryside can be devastating. With significant planning concessions, the industry lacks the incentive to find technical solutions to technical problems—and the environment is the loser. Environmental damage should not be available as a cheap option to avoid the need for technical improvements. The lack of co-operation and co-ordination between telecommunications operators has further alienated public concern.


  6.  The current system has proved itself inadequate to control unnecessary environment impact from telecommunications development on three counts:

    —  extensive permitted development rights reduce the opportunity for public comment on proposals and undermine local authority confidence in controlling unacceptable development

    —  the policy guidance in Planning Policy Guidance note 8 Telecommunications is unacceptably biased and more positively worded for this form of development than any other. It leaves local authorities unable to distinguish between need and demand, virtually ignores the role of the development plan and allows technical considerations to trump all others in deciding on appropriate sites. Only opencast coal mining has enjoyed a similar liberal framework until this was removed in a major review of Minerals Planning Policy Guidance note 3 in 1999.

    —  the requirement for operators to provide local planning authorities with details of proposals for their entire local network under the Telecommunications Act 1984 is poorly understood and implemented which means that the focus remains on individual proposals rather than developing an effective network at minimum environmental costs through effective forward planning.


  7.  Telecommunications development should be:

    —  subject to the same planning scrutiny and controls as other commercial operators with prior notification procedures abolished and replaced by normal planning controls;

    —  managed by significantly revised planning guidance which, as a minimum, is brought into line with the policy framework provided for other built development. It would not be sufficient to remove permitted development rights without complementary changes to the policy framework;

    —  managed more strategically with a focus on networks, rather than individual masts, through the development plan and licensing system. This should also apply to the current proposals for the emergency services. The role of environmental appraisal in assessing the impact of development and framing suitable development plan policies should be emphasised. Approached at the development plan stage, a wider range of siting options could be explored. Compromise between operator needs and environmental and public concerns would be more achievable, restoring public confidence.

March 2001



  1.  CPRE welcomes the opportunity to comment on a revised draft Planning Policy Guidance note (PPG) 8 on Telecommunications and to participate in this consultation on permitted development rights and other planning controls over telecommunication mast development.

  2.  CPRE recognises the importance of an effective national telecommunications network, but we have long been concerned that the countryside is suffering unacceptable and unnecessary environmental damage as a result of inadequate procedures for managing its development. Telecommunications development often has a highly intrusive visual impact on the countryside and this is a major issue of concern to our volunteers and to the wider public. We believe these issues are best resolved by the removal of permitted development rights from all but the most minor development and recasting PPG8 better to integrate environmental objectives into the benefits sought from improved telecommunications. Such changes are long overdue.

  3.  CPRE has previously commented on these issues in detail in our responses to the draft revised PPG8 in 1992, the proposed amendments to controls over telecommunications development in 1996, the DETR consultation paper in 1998, the DETR/DoH consultation draft Circular on Land Use Planning and Electromagnetic Fields in February 1999 and the draft Circular Telecommunications and Development Control in April 1999, as well as giving evidence to the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones and Health.


  4.  The Government's position on telecommunications development to date has been to give priority to facilitating network expansion. The industry has enjoyed special privileges in the planning system not afforded to other commercial interests. The special treatment in the form of exemption from normal planning controls and positively worded planning guidance has resulted in a proliferation of unsightly masts. Their impact on the character of the countryside, individually and cumulatively, can be devastating. CPRE believes that the guidance should be revised to remove the bias in favour of the industry and that this is especially urgent now that the development of more sophisticated digital technology is resulting in pressure for more masts to be located even closer together than hitherto.

  5.  In spite of guidance about choice of sites, telecommunications operators have major advantages over local planning authorities in any consideration of base station and mast locations. These advantages stem from the inability of local planning authorities to question need and the difficulty of engaging in assessments of technical requirements. CPRE believes that the revised PPG8 continues to make too many concessions to technical limitations in any other way except through environmental sacrifices. This approach does not encourage operators to take their environmental responsibilities seriously, and is at odds with the increasing emphasis by the Government on the importance of environmental considerations in the assessment of all other forms of development.

  6.  We believe that the revised guidance should emphasise the potential role of environmental appraisal in assessing the impact of telecommunications development and in framing suitable development plan policies. While PPG12 stresses the importance of the plan-led system, there is insufficient emphasis in PPG8 on the use of the development plan process to assess network expansion and insufficient scope for local planning authorities to influence the pattern of network development. Network operators should be obliged to consult local planning authorities on their plans for the whole of their network so as to minimise environmental impact. This is likely to be much more beneficial than a case by case assessment of individual masts.

  7.  CPRE is also concerned by the failure in the guidance to distinguish between the demand and the need for development as if both were equally legitimate. This prevents the planning system from fulfilling its important role of safeguarding the wider public interest in the face of unacceptable commercial demands and serves further to undermine environmental priorities.


  8.  The Stewart Report notes the general public's dissatisfaction with the system of prior notification for certain types of telecommunications development. The main source of dissatisfaction is the disempowerment felt by those whom the local planning authorities have insufficient time to consult because of the reduced amount of time for consideration of proposals notified.

  9.  CPRE's longstanding view is that permitted development rights, and thus prior approval procedures, should apply only to the most minor telecommunications development. We believe that, in addition to a new emphasis in PPG8 on the need for environmental protection, the GPDO should be amended to remove permitted development rights for all but the most minor development. This requirement should apply to modifications to existing masts and base stations permitted under the previous procedures.

  10.  CPRE believes that network development could be achieved at a much lower environmental cost if it were subject to closer controls. While we recognise that some of the development currently enjoying permitted development rights is quite small, such development can have an impact disproportionate to its size if wrongly located. The cumulative impact of such development can be particularly harmful. The removal of permitted development rights does not mean that such development should not be permitted, but simply that such proposals should be properly assessed and with adequate time for public consultation and that the handling of telecommunications development benefits form the development plan process. The present freedom from controls, as the Stewart Report found, is the source of considerable public concern which is in the interests of neither the telecommunications operators nor the environment.

  11.  A uniform approach to telecommunications development, regardless of size or location and applying equally to mobile phone operators and telecommunications code systems operators, would have the additional advantage of being clear and easy to understand for all involved.


  12.  CPRE has long argued that the special exemptions enjoyed by the telecommunications industry are unfair and inappropriate and that all but the most minor telecommunications development should be subject to the full planning controls which apply to all other commercial enterprises.

  13.  We agree with the conclusions of the Stewart Report that public confidence in the planning system has been eroded by the prior approval procedures. We believe that all individuals should have the right—and adequate time—to comment on any planning proposal which directly or indirectly affects them and their environment.

  14.  The time spent in the planning process is an important part of the negotiation needed to produce acceptable development. Operators should be encouraged to consider planning issues much earlier in the process of network expansion. CPRE does not believe that the time spent in the land use planning of the network or the costs of submitting planning applications are significant in terms of commercial planning. Indeed, all other commercial enterprises manage to work within such a framework.

  15.  CPRE believes that the demands of the telecommunications industry should not outweigh environmental considerations. We would urge the Government to revise PPG8 further to remove the bias in favour of the operators and attach greater weight to environmental concerns. Consideration of serious environmental impact should override technical difficulties, spurring the industry to find technical solutions to such problems.

October 2000

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