Some 92% of individuals in the UK have a mobile phone, and 39% own a smart phone complete with mobile internet access, so the Government is keen to encourage improvements to the patchy mobile coverage around the UK. The latest move appears to be less about throwing small amounts of money at the problem, but more about changing the rules governing where and how big mobile masts can be.
The press release is fairly spare on detail, meaning that to get a better idea of what is planned you should really read the full PDF that also includes the consultation questions which has a closing date of 14th June 2013
Proposal 1: On existing buildings and structures, increase the current permitted development height limit for antenna from up to 4 metres to up to 6 metres before the prior approval threshold applies under existing permitted development rights. This applies to land in non-protected areas only.
Proposal 2: Increase the number of antenna systems allowed on buildings only applies to land in non-protected areas as permitted development.
Proposal 3: Amend the definition of ‘antenna system’ to reflect mobile operators sharing of infrastructure. This applies to both land in non-protected and protected areas.
Proposal 4: Amend part 24 of schedule 2 of the 1995 order to include and update definitions for ‘antenna’, to include the supporting structure, mounting, fixing and bracket. This applies to land in non protected and protected areas.
Proposal 5: Wall mounted microcell antenna (of up to 0.5 metres2) on buildings or structures to have a permitted development right with prior approval – this applies to land in protected areas only.
Proposal 6: Increase the total aggregated size limit of dish antenna on buildings as permitted development without prior approval. Applies to non-protected land only.
Proposal 7: Clarification of the 1995 order that volume limits on the installation of radio equipment housing cabinet (mobile communications equipment) of up to 2.5 cubic metres are not cumulative: applies to non-protected and protected land.
Proposal 8: That ancillary equipment is considered in totality as part of the communications development for planning purposes, with prior approval requirements (siting and design) retained for developments in protected areas. Applies to land in non-protected and protected areas.
Proposal 9: Grant permitted development rights with prior approval (siting and design) for two specified changes to existing apparatus. Applies to land in protected areas.
Proposal 10: Clarification that an agreed amendment between a mobile operator and local planning authority to an existing approved application does not require a fresh application. Applies to non protected and protected land.
Proposal 11: Existing masts (on land in non-protected areas) can be increased in height from up to 15 metres to up to 20 metres and width by up to a third as permitted development with prior approval for siting and design.List of proposals from mobile mast consultation
The two most obvious proposals that are likely to get noticed by most people are the changes to allow masts up to 6 metres tall without prior planning approval, and the option to allow existing masts that are 15 metre tall to be increased to 20 metre in height, the width changes also give more scope for extra antenna on a mast in adddition to the space improvements that height alone gives.
You may recall when the planning changes for broadband street cabinets was last discusssed (consultation started Jan 2013 and ended at the end of March) that it was made clear that those changes did not apply to masts, now with this new consultation it is clear why, the plan was to split the issues apart. We suspect that this may have been because the issue of mobile masts creates a lot more angst in neighbourhoods.
In theory the changes should allow for better coverage from existing masts and changes to the microcell rules may help operators to eliminate the various not-spots that exist even in central London. The roll-out of 4G alone is just one element for improving mobile broadband, as it improves the efficient use of the radio spectrum, increasing the number of masts and capacity at each mast are also part of the equation.
The UK currently has 57,018 mobile base stations (Openreach operates around 85,000 to 90,000 street cabinets as a comparison), ten thousand of these are masts under 15 metre in height, with another 1,000 between 15m and 20m in height.
|Base station type||Number|
|Ground based masts||18,978|
|Microcells (e.g located on side of building)||5,542|
|Street works (e.g. lamp posts)||8,259|
|Water towers, pylons and other third party structures||12,472|