Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2001
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
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 authoritiesmy colleagues may be
able to help furtherboth 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 beand it is maybe
difficult to sayproven 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.
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
(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
(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
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.
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
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
(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
portfolioI am sure with the other operators we can quantify
that for youare 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.